Tonight some 200 community volunteers will conduct the most important data-collection effort of the year — a citywide count of the number of homeless people on the streets of Santa Monica.

This year, for the first time, the City Hall is expanding its involvement in the biennial Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) Count project and partnering with LAHSA to conduct a citywide direct street count in all of Santa Monica’s census tracts.

The last time LAHSA conducted the homeless count, in 2007, volunteers were sent to only 12 of the city’s 19 census tracts. This year, volunteer teams will travel every street and alley in the city and tally people sleeping outside, in makeshift shelters and in vehicles. At the same time a census will be conducted in shelters, hospitals, jails and some motels.

A citywide direct street count will remove projections and result in as accurate a count as possible. The data from the count will have many uses including helping define Santa Monica’s fair share, directing resources, and shaping programs that engage homeless people in services, assist them to become stable and move them off the streets and into appropriate housing.

At approximately 10 p.m., volunteers will gather at the Ken Edwards Center and Virginia Avenue Park and fan out across the city to count the individuals they see on the streets. Police personnel will provide security for the street count. Raw data will be shared approximately one month after the street count.

This is a project of the city of Santa Monica’s Human Services Division, which provides and supports social service, recreation, education and community programs addressing the needs of infants, children, teens, families, people with disabilities, seniors, victims of domestic violence and low-income individuals, including those who are homeless.