Saturday, May 18

Westwood community members contribute efforts for the Greater LA Homeless Count

Councilmember Katy Young Yaroslavsky speaks at the Greater LA Homeless Count in Westwood on Thursday night. Over a hundred volunteers showed up to the count to help collect data on Westwood's homeless population. (Ethan Manafi/Daily Bruin staff)

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority led more than a hundred volunteers through Westwood Wednesday night to conduct the annual Greater LA Homeless Count.

The count – which took place from Tuesday to Thursday night – was co-chaired by members of the Westwood Neighborhood Council, which represents parts of Westwood as an advisory board to the LA City Council, and the Westwood Community Council, a non profit community organization. They searched for and tallied unhoused neighbors using census tracts that span from Sunset Boulevard in the north, Santa Monica Boulevard to the south, South Sepulveda Boulevard to the west and the border of neighboring Beverly Hills on the east side of the map.

The volunteers and organizers met at Westwood Presbyterian Church and split into groups of five or six people. They surveyed the designated land marked by LAHSA, working into the early hours of Thursday morning.

Last year, LAHSA reported a slight increase of 4.1% of people experiencing homelessness in LA County, which was up 1.7% from 2020. The organization said pandemic-era policies prevented another iteration of the 29.6% surge previously seen in 2020. The count was canceled in 2021 because of the severity of the pandemic.

This year’s volunteers included students, the student organization Mobile Clinic Project at UCLA, politicians, business owners, renters and Westwood community members.

Some volunteers at the event also gave remarks prior to the count, including District 5 Councilmember Katy Young Yaroslavsky and District 3 Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, whose districts include UCLA and Westwood. Homelessness was a focus of the campaigns Yaroslavsky and Horvath won in November.

Both officials took part in the count and worked alongside volunteers to collect raw data that LAHSA will use to provide government agencies with accurate estimates for future funding.

“I think we all know that it’s going to be a high number,” Yaroslavsky said in an interview. “While that’s a tragedy, it also helps us make the case to the federal government or state partners that they need to bring additional resources to the table and treat this like the emergency that we all in Los Angeles know that it is.”

The count also followed the passage of tenant protections by the LA City Council Jan. 20. The council elected to allow their pandemic-era eviction moratorium to expire Jan. 31, but the LA County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to extend the eviction moratorium until March, according to the LA Daily News. Mayor Karen Bass declared a state of emergency over the homelessness crisis Dec. 12, 2022 and the LA County Board of Supervisors followed suit, doing the same Jan. 10.

This year’s count marked the second straight year LAHSA used a different mobile app to tabulate the data. Volunteers used the ArcGIS QuickCapture software, which allowed them to download their designated census tract and mark observations, including age, dwelling, appearance and behavior of unhoused individuals.

Last year’s app had some data processing errors, said Lisa Chapman, co-chair of the Westwood Homeless Count and president of the Westwood Neighborhood Council, and Chantelle Eastman, co-chair of the Westwood Homeless Count. This year, despite moving to a new app, challenges with the new software have continued to persist, such as error messages and data loading capacity issues, they said.

Eastman said she wished the group had more time to work with the app before putting it to use.

Wendy Perez, a fourth-year human biology and society student, said she attended the count to learn more about how local governments are addressing homelessness. She is hopeful that participating in an event like this will bring policy changes for the Westwood community, she said.

“By actually going on to the streets and seeing the conditions that people are actually living in, I think that can really help destigmatize our unhoused communities,” Perez said.

Horvath said in her remarks that LA is experiencing a crisis of homelessness, and that the county and city need to focus their resources into producing more housing. She said she hopes to work with Yaroslavsky to bridge the gap in policy between the city and county.

“We have to make sure that we build more affordable housing and create more affordable housing options so people can continue to afford to live here long-term,” Horvath said in an interview.

Steven Sann, co-chair of the Westwood Homeless Count and chairman of the Westwood Community Council, said this year’s numbers are expected to show a rise in the homeless population in Westwood, adding that LAHSA’s final report will be ready at the end of summer.

Contributing reports by Shaanth Kodialam, features and student life editor.

National news and higher education editor

Royer is the 2023-2024 national news and higher education editor. He is also a Sports staff writer on the men’s soccer and softball beats and is Copy staff. He was previously the 2022-2023 city and crime editor and a contributor on the features and student life beat. He is also a fourth-year political science student minoring in labor studies from West Hills, California.

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