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Students turn out in increased numbers as volunteers for LA 2020 Homeless Count

The 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count is a county-wide census of people experiencing homelessness that occurred over 3 days. Westwood community members partook in the census Wednesday night. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Maanas Oruganti

Jan. 24, 2020 12:30 a.m.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated 130 Westwood community members helped count the number of people experiencing homelessness. In fact, 120 members helped.

This post was updated Jan. 28 at 7:13 p.m.

Westwood community members walked the neighborhood to count the number of people experiencing homelessness Wednesday night.

The 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, an annual, countywide census of people experiencing homelessness, covers a total area of 4,000 square miles in three days. Lisa Chapman, an organizer of the Westwood Homeless Count and president of the Westwood Neighborhood Council, said 120 Westwood community members spent two hours on foot or in cars to add information about the neighborhood’s population of people experiencing homelessness to the survey.

Andrew Lewis, a North Westwood Neighborhood Council member, said he believed having numerical data was critical to determining how to best allocate resources for people experiencing homelessness.

“In terms of allocating resources, asking for additional resources at the county level, at the state level, and even prioritizing it at the neighborhood council level here in Westwood Village, it’s good to know exactly how big of an issue it is,” Lewis said.

This is Lewis’ third year participating in the count. He said he wanted to help address growing homelessness in LA. Last year, the county saw a 12% increase in homelessness despite legislative efforts such as Measure H to combat the problem, which provided funding for new homeless housing units and programs.

“We’ve had a rise (in homelessness) from last year to this year … and I wanted to do my part so that we can continue to see where the numbers are at so that we know exactly where we’re at in terms of homelessness in LA County,” Lewis said.

Andrew Thomas, executive director of the Westwood Village Improvement Association, said he participated in the event with his team because he believed in the importance of updating the census.

“We can better gauge the true nature of the crisis that is people experiencing homelessness on our streets. So I believe in it, philosophically,” Thomas said.

Thomas added he found the event to be inspiring because of the unity it brings among all members of the community.

“I really enjoyed the event because Westwood is a place that has a number of different players and different voices that don’t always agree, but everybody comes together for this event, and really puts aside whatever differences we may all have,” Thomas said.

Grayson Peters, a NWWNC council member and third-year political science student, said he was struck by the amount of student participation this year. He added he believed the participation demonstrated how invested students are in the Westwood community.

“There’s a lot of energy put into broadcasting a message that … students are transient, contemporary members of the community who don’t necessarily care enough about local issues to be involved,” Peters said. “And I think the fact that the bulk of the volunteers who showed up on a Wednesday night were students … shows that’s no longer the case if it ever was.”

Volunteers underwent a training session to learn how to identify people experiencing homelessness, then broke into teams of four to canvass various parts of Westwood, including the UCLA campus. Volunteers walked around with a pen and a piece of paper, tallying down the number of people they identified, Lewis added.

“It was a good time,” Lewis said. “(The Homeless Count) offers a chance to connect with other like-minded people who care about the issue. I was with two undergraduate students and I think it was their first time doing it.”

Lewis said he believed that despite the training provided at the beginning of the event, determining who was experiencing homelessness was still a challenge for volunteers.

“There’s no clear definitive indicator of … experiencing homelessness unless … you see them sleeping outside or in a tent or something like that,” Lewis said. “There is somewhat of a subjective scale to it.”

Peters said the Homeless Count only provided a snapshot of the population experiencing homelessness in Westwood and could not provide the full story by itself.

“There are a lot of students (who) are sleeping in their cars … and a lot of students who are crashing or sleeping in libraries,” Peters said. “So there’s a lot of homelessness invisible even to this survey, but it’s better to have an incomplete picture than no picture at all.”

Thomas said despite efforts to reduce homelessness, numbers in previous years have shown only an increase in rates of homelessness in Los Angeles and he believes all parts of the country are facing a homelessness crisis. The results of the count will be released in June after the data has been processed.

“I’m scared for what the numbers are going to show this year because I don’t see why they wouldn’t increase,” Thomas said.

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Maanas Oruganti | Enterprise editor
Oruganti is a News staff writer. He was previously a reporter for the city and crime beat. He is also a second-year cognitive science student.
Oruganti is a News staff writer. He was previously a reporter for the city and crime beat. He is also a second-year cognitive science student.
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