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Mayor Richard Bloom (top) talks with volunteers at the Civic Auditorium before they walk the street of Santa Monica during the annual homeless count on Wednesday night. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CIVIC CENTER — Teamwork was in full swing Wednesday night as a mostly volunteer crowd gathered at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium to conduct an all night visual count of the homeless population.

Mayor Richard Bloom opened City Hall’s annual Homeless Count, apologizing for the lateness of the hour and thanking the volunteers for attending.

“You are the ones really playing an important role here tonight,” he said.

The information gathered will help City Hall calculate the effectiveness of its homeless services and programs, city officials said.

Federal law mandates that all communities that receive funding for homeless programs conduct a homeless count every two years, Bloom said.

Santa Monica is one of a handful of cities that conducts such a count every year.

The annual homeless count is evidence of both Santa Monica’s commitment to fixing the issue of homelessness and the city’s role as a leader of social change, Bloom said.

“This strong turnout is an indicator to me that we’re doing the right thing,” he said.

Over 180 volunteers and 30 city staff members gathered, said Margaret Willis, a senior analyst with the Human Services Division.

That was a little more bit more than last year, she added.

Volunteers started to settle in after 10 p.m., fueling up on hot beverages provided by Peet’s Coffee and Tea for the long night ahead.

At 11 p.m., Natasha Guest, an administrative analyst with the Human Services Division, gave an instructional lecture teaching volunteers the ABCs of identifying homeless individuals and their vehicles (“Appearance,” “Behavior” and “Condition”). This was followed by a brief safety lesson before volunteers were sent out in teams led by captains to canvas the city streets and alleys.

Each of the 67 volunteer teams swept through a different part of the city, on foot or in cars, recording any homeless individuals and families, vehicles and encampments they could identify.

A count of the homeless population in shelters, jails and hospitals, as well as local beaches and freeways, was made simultaneously by the Santa Monica Police Department.

A broad sampling of citizens from the Los Angeles area volunteered for the event.

Mar Vista resident Stephanie Lazicki works at City Hall, but had never engaged in the Homeless Count before.

“The city talks a lot about the programs we do [for the homeless],” Lazicki said. “I want to learn more about Santa Monica as a city. Obviously, homelessness is a big issue.”

Another first time volunteer was Torrance resident Sarah Gomez.

“My sister used to work with homeless in Santa Monica, and I thought if I can do my part to help, I’ll do it,” she said.

Santa Monica resident Shahad Shamji was one of many members of Ismaili Community Engaged in Responsible Volunteering (i-CERV), an Islamic community organization, who volunteered for the count.

This was not the first time that members of i-CERV had been present, and it probably won’t be the last, Shamji said. Shamji attended the 2011 Homeless Count, he added, but this was the first time he had led a team.

“It added to the responsibility,” he said.

After each team finished canvassing its designated area, volunteers dropped off their tally.

The last team returned to the Civic Center at 2:30 a.m.

The 2007 Santa Monica Homeless Count recorded a population of 999. By 2011, the homeless population appeared to have dropped to 740, about a 25 percent reduction.

The 2012 homeless population information will be tallied by February, and announced at the social services commission meeting on Monday, Feb. 27, at the Civic Center, Willis said.

The information should appear online shortly after that, she said.

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