How to tally life on streets?

City-county agency dis­putes re­port that says L.A.’s home­less are mis­counted.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Gale Hol­land

Each Jan­uary, thou­sands of vol­un­teers fan out across Los An­ge­les to count home­less peo­ple liv­ing in riverbeds and canyons, on street corners and in hid­den en­camp­ments.

The count does not pur­port to tap ev­ery per­son who ex­pe­ri­ences bouts of home­less­ness over a year, but rather pro­duces a snap­shot of the street and shel­ter pop­u­la­tion that can be used to shape pol­icy and dis­trib­ute fund­ing. A count re­leased in May found 58,000 home­less peo­ple through­out the Los An­ge­les re­gion this year.

Now a new study says L.A.’s count un­der­es­ti­mates the num­ber of home­less peo­ple and re­ports year-to-year shifts in gen­der, eth­nic­ity and age break­downs that are not “plau­si­ble.”

De­mo­graphic sur­veys used to col­lect race and gen­der data are not ran­dom, and the fi­nal num­bers are so dif­fer­ent from school and wel­fare home­less data that they must be wrong, the Eco­nomic Roundtable, a Los An­ge­les re­search group, said in its re­port.

“The home­less count is valu­able for pro­vid­ing a fresh pic­ture of home­less­ness,” the Eco­nomic Roundtable said in the 47-page re­port. “But the count data is not re­li­able enough to be used for com­par­ing the num­ber or pop­u­la­tion com­po­si­tion of home­less res­i­dents from dif­fer­ent counts.”

The Los An­ge­les Home­less Ser­vices Author­ity, the city-county agency that over­sees the count, dis­puted the group’s find­ings.

“While well-in­ten­tioned, the re­port does not re­flect suf­fi­cient fa­mil­iar­ity with how the count is con­ducted,” Peter Lynn, the ser­vices author­ity’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said in a state­ment.

Los An­ge­les, like other ju­ris­dic­tions, ad­heres to a strict fed­eral def­i­ni­tion of home­less­ness, and school and wel­fare of­fice data do not meet the stan­dards, the

ser­vices author­ity said.

The ac­cu­racy of the count is im­por­tant, be­cause it pro­vides the only nu­mer­i­cal bench­mark to gauge if home­less­ness is grow­ing and to as­sess whether re­gional strate­gies work.

A re­port this year from the real es­tate re­search firm Zil­low also found L.A. was un­der­count­ing its home­less num­bers, which the com­pany es­ti­mated hit 61,000 this year.

The Eco­nomic Roundtable did not give an al­ter­nate fig­ure but said L.A.’s method­ol­ogy missed peo­ple.

The Eco­nomic Roundtable was an un­suc­cess­ful bid­der to help the ser­vices author­ity de­sign the count method­ol­ogy last year. The job went to a USC team.

The roundtable makes a num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions for sharp­en­ing the data, in­clud­ing bet­ter vol­un­teer train­ing and more foot counts. (Many neigh­bor­hoods are can­vassed by car.)

It also sug­gested us­ing smart­phone GPS tech­nol­ogy and send­ing peo­ple pos­ing as home­less, or “de­coys,” into neigh­bor­hoods, as of­fi­cials do in New York and Toronto, to en­sure that every­one is counted.

In its re­sponse, the ser­vices author­ity said it was not fea­si­ble to walk the 4,000 square miles in the Los An­ge­les re­gion or send de­coys into the vast area. More than 41,000 home­less peo­ple live out­doors in L.A., as op­posed to 3,900 in New York, whose pop­u­la­tion is largely in shel­ters, the agency said.

GPS re­cep­tion would be spotty in parts of the county, and its readings could not be ver­i­fied.

The Eco­nomic Roundtable also rec­om­mended con­sult­ing pub­lic as­sis­tance, health­care provider and school data to im­prove the count’s ac­cu­racy.

The lo­cal home­less agency said the wel­fare of­fice’s def­i­ni­tion of home­less­ness is too broad to meet fed­eral stan­dards but added that it was work­ing with the Los An­ge­les County Of­fice of Ed­u­ca­tion to im­prove the youth home­less count.

Michael Owen Baker For The Times

A COUNT re­leased in May found 58,000 home­less peo­ple such as Tommy Shot, above, through­out the L.A. re­gion. A new re­port sug­gests GPS tech­nol­ogy and more foot counts could pro­duce a more ac­cu­rate tally.

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