By C.J. SALGADO
EAST LOS ANGELES — On Tuesday night, volunteers fanned out across East L.A., bearing clipboards, tally sheets, maps, and flashlights for the 2015 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count.
The purpose of the count, which is held every two years by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, is to get an accurate picture of the size and scope of homelessness in the county in order to improve homeless services and housing.
The 2013 count found almost 2,500 homeless persons in the East L.A. area, including 173 homeless veterans, 119 minors, and 443 chronically homeless persons on the streets. It may be a few months before the tally marks are totaled for this year’s count.
Tuesday’s count focused on East Los Angeles, with about 70 volunteers showing up for a meeting at the Centro Maravilla Service Center in East L.A. for training prior to teams deploying out into the night. Valerie Richard, a clinical social worker who lead the training session recounted how almost 30 years ago she had attended a workshop on how to end homelessness in New York. Yet, here she was again smack in the middle of another battle in a war that doesn’t seem to end. Homelessness remains a problem after all these years.
In fact, a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff said he still runs into the same chronically homeless individuals after patrolling East L.A. for many years..
So, is it that such individuals choose to remain homeless or is it that social safety nets are inadequate? For the many volunteers that gave up their Tuesday night, their concern was more practical. Who do we count? Where to look?
A volunteer named Jessica poured over a map as she planned her best approach to the target area, one of thirty designated census tracts in East L.A. Her mission: find and count homeless people on every street, alley, and park, bus stop, etc. She would not have to look for long.
In one alley, sleeps a man on a mattress sprawled across the center of an alley behind a gas station. He sleeps despite the noise of cars moving about him, apparently not the least bit worried about being hit by a car that might enter the alley unaware of his presence.
Outside a McDonald’s, another homeless man approaches cars as they exit the drive-thru begging for spare change. He carries his blanket close to him like Linus character in Charlie Brown. He doesn’t mind the cold so much because his blanket warms him, but the recent rain exacerbates his coughing spells and dampens his spirits.
This is the second year that Jessica has volunteered to count the homeless. In 2013, she counted the homeless in the Venice area. She just wants to help end homelessness, and if counting will help, she’s on it.
Volunteers are still being signed up for homeless counts that will take place on Thursday, January 29 in Boyle Heights, Eagle Rock, Echo Park, Highland Park, Los Feliz and Silver Lake.