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Over 150 community members volunteer in annual Westwood Homeless Count

Steven Sann, co-chair of the Westwood Homeless Count, is pictured speaking to volunteers. Over 150 volunteers came together for the count Wednesday. (Michael Gallagher/Daily Bruin)

By Sharla Steinman

Jan. 28, 2024 7:57 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that 2024 was the third year the ArcGIS app was used for the Westwood Homeless Count. In fact, it was the second year the app was used.

This post was updated Jan. 29 at 3:27 p.m.

Over 150 volunteers gathered Wednesday night at the Westwood Presbyterian Church for the annual Westwood Homeless Count.

The count is part of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s Greater LA Homeless Count that took place Jan. 23 to 25. Volunteers arrived at the church around 9:30 p.m. and listened to speeches by staff and community leaders before beginning the count. Local businesses donated dinner and refreshments to support the count. 

Patrick Ngo, a caseworker for UCLA’s Mobile Clinic Project, said to make sure resources are allocated properly, LA needs to have an idea of how many people are unhoused.

“We’re just trying to do our part, show up and contribute to their efforts so we can make sure there’s enough resources allocated for the unhoused,” he said.

Ngo, who is also a second-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student, added that gathering the data can help make sure the government accounts for people who are unhoused.

Lisa Chapman, co-chair of the Westwood Homeless Count, said the count can bring housing and urban development money into Westwood and also helps elected officials ask for money from the state and federal government.

Westwood’s count covers a large portion of West LA, surveying the areas between Sunset Boulevard on the north edge of UCLA’s campus to Santa Monica Boulevard on the south, as well as from the Interstate 405 to the Beverly Hills border, said Steven Sann, co-chair of Westwood’s Homeless Count.

Before deploying in groups of around three to six people, volunteers were required to participate in an online training course to prepare for the count and were then quizzed in person by Sann.

Sann, who is also chair of the Westwood Community Council, a nongovernmental board that represents Westwood stakeholders, told volunteers to look for ABCs – appearance, behavior and conditions – when counting the unhoused population.

Volunteers, who were assigned an area of Westwood to cover, used the app ArcGIS QuickCapture to tally the number of unhoused people they saw while deployed. This was the second year the app had been used for the count.

Last year’s count showed a 9% increase in homelessness in LA County and a 10% rise in the city.

[Related: Westwood community members contribute efforts for the Greater LA Homeless Count]

Gael Perez, a fourth-year human biology and society student who is also a caseworker with the Mobile Clinic Project, said the count is important because of how often homelessness rates change.

“We really want to keep up to date, just to get an accurate picture of how this issue, especially in Los Angeles, has changed over time,” he said.

Sann said to volunteers that the count contributes to ensuring that LA receives enough federal funding to help mitigate homelessness.

“These numbers are used by our elected officials locally and nationally to decide where money and resources need to be deployed in order to affect this very ongoing and very serious crisis,” Sann said to the volunteers.

Patricia Macias, field deputy for District 5 Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky’s office, thanked the volunteers during her speech for participating and commended them for being part of one of the city’s largest counts.

LAPD Senior Lead Officer James Allen gave volunteers a speech on personal safety while conducting the count.

He told volunteers to stay in their groups, utilize their “sixth sense” and maintain distance if in a challenging situation.

Chapman, who is also president of the Westwood Neighborhood Council – which borders the North Westwood Neighborhood Council – said she was glad to see high turnout among students at the count. She added that there are students at UCLA who are unhoused and that students helping with the count puts that into perspective.

“I hope it kind of opens students’ eyes to the plight that even their fellow students are in,” she said. “It’s just a precarious world for everyone right now.”

Sann added that the count is important because homelessness is a human health crisis.

“Tonight, we have 150 volunteers that went out in the cold,” Sann said. “They’re going to be cold for one night, but the people we’re counting – they’re cold every night when they’re out there.”

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Sharla Steinman | City and Crime Editor
Steinman is the 2023-2024 city and crime editor. She was previously a city and crime contributor. She is also a fourth-year political science student.
Steinman is the 2023-2024 city and crime editor. She was previously a city and crime contributor. She is also a fourth-year political science student.
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