January 26, 2022

Winter COVID surge forces delay in LA County homeless count

View Original Notice ? Winter COVID surge forces delay in LA County homeless count

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The annual Los Angeles homeless count, originally scheduled for later this month, has been postponed to Feb. 22-24, amid the COVID-19 surge, the countywide homeless services authority announced Friday, Jan. 14.

The new dates for the L.A. Homeless Services Authority’s count are:

  • Feb. 22 in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys;
  • Feb. 23 in West Los Angeles, Southeast Los Angeles, and the South Bay; and
  • Feb. 24 in Antelope Valley, Metro Los Angeles, and South Los Angeles.

Volunteers can sign up at: https://www.theycountwillyou.org.

Every two years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires LAHSA and other similar agencies to do a “point-in-time” count, to reflect the number of unhoused people on a given night.

The count is done throughout the county, with the exception of Long Beach, Pasadena and Burbank. Those cities do their own counts and apply for funding from the federal government separately. Long Beach and Pasadena had already postponed their counts earlier this week. Both pushed pack to Thursday, Feb. 24.

HUD, which uses the results of the count to decide how much funding to provide to LAHSA, has approved the delay, officials said Friday.

Up until last year, when the count was canceled amid the pandemic, LAHSA had been organizing the annual counts.

The county received an exemption from HUD and was not required to conduct a 2021 count due to the pandemic. The decision was made after LAHSA determined it was not safe to gather 8,000 volunteers, given guidance from the county Department of Public Health — and taking into account stay-at-home orders and curfews at the time.

A “tiny home village” that can serve as interim housing for up to 74 people experiencing homelessness is now open in a former parking lot in Echo Park on Alvarado St. and Scott Ave. on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG

Though scattered short-term housing efforts have been built recently,  including an array of “tiny home” villages and other shelters, officials fear the county’s homeless crisis deepened during the pandemic. Experts say longer-range housing strategies are still insufficient. Debate on the topic has dominated debate among elected officials at the state, county and local levels and is expected to frame many key election races on the horizon.

Officials said they were concerned about the safety of homeless-count volunteers and unhoused residents.

“While we work to ensure an accurate homeless count, we cannot ignore the surging number of positive COVID-19 cases across our region,” LAHSA Executive Director Heidi Marston said. “Even with safety precautions such as moving training online, developing outdoor deployment sites, and keeping households together, moving forward with a count in January places our unhoused neighbors, volunteers, staff, and the accuracy of the count at risk.”

LAHSA made adjustments to the count’s process this year to address COVID-19 safety, including:

  • Setting up outdoor sites for deployment of volunteers;
  • Providing online training to reduce the time volunteers spend at deployment sites, and providing COVID-19 safety instructions in that training;
  • Urging volunteers to form two- to three-person “safety bubbles” when they sign up;
  • Requiring that volunteers wear masks; and
  • Encouraging volunteers to be vaccinated.

LAHSA also will be using a mobile app for recording and uploading the count data, rather than paper sheets.

HUD’s definition for homelessness is limited to people living in shelters and on the streets, including in tents and vehicles.

The count does not include people who are “couch-surfing,” although other tallies done by such agencies as the Los Angeles Unified School District have included them.

According to the 2020 count, the county’s homeless population increased by 12.7% over the previous year, while the city of Los Angeles’ homeless population jumped by 14.2%.

In January 2019, L.A. County had 58,936 people experiencing homelessness, but by January 2020 the number rose to 66,433. The city of L.A. counted 36,165 in 2019, and 41,290 in 2020.

Pasadena’s 2020 count of 527 people experiencing homelessness was considered by officials to be largely unchanged from 2019. The 2020 count showed 2,034 homeless people in Long Beach, up from 1,894 the previous year.

This week, the winter coronavirus surge, fueled by the highly transmissible omicron variant, raged on unabated, as officials urged residents to take safety precautions and hoped the spike is reaching it peak.

The number of L.A. County people hospitalized for COVID-19 treatment rose to more then 4,000 on Thursday, Jan. 13 —  its highest level since early February 2021. While evidence indicated the new strain, now the dominant coronavirus variant, is less virulent than its predecessors, it spreads more swiftly and experts fear the booming caseload could swamp the county’s hospitals.

The county Department of Public Health posted 45,076 new positive COVID cases, the omicron variant now making up nearly 95% of all sequenced cases in the county.

The winter viral wave continued its deadly turn, with 45 new COVID-related fatalities reported on Thursday.

To date, the county has reported 27,895 COVID-related deaths and 2,131,523 cases since the pandemic began. Thursday’s rolling daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 20.8%.

As of Thursday, there were 4,175 people with the coronavirus in county hospitals, according to the latest state figures, up from 3,912 the day prior.

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday the rise in COVID patients is pushing the county’s overall hospital patient population to levels rivaling those of last winter’s case surge. She said the daily overall patient census — both COVID and non-COVID — is about 15,000 in the county, close to last winter’s peak of 16,500.

County Department of Health Services director Christina Ghaly said current staffing shortages are creating more critical conditions at hospitals. She pointed to a large number of health care workers who have retired or moved on from frontline work.

Ghaly also said that healthcare workers are just as, if not more, vulnerable to COVID infection— leaving many unavailable to work due to illness or exposure.

 

 

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