Taking a load off: A homeless man rests on the Third Street Promenade, a popular hangout. (File photo)

Volunteers are needed to help conduct the annual Homeless Count in Santa Monica on Jan. 27.

The Point-in-Time Homeless Count and Survey is a national undertaking mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for all communities that receive federal funds for homelessness programs. The results have a direct impact on the amount of federal funds allocated to homeless programs nationally and how those funds are distributed.

The Los Angeles County count is the largest in the nation and Santa Monica will join other Westside agencies in conducting its count on the evening of Wednesday, Jan 27.

Organizers said they need at least 250 people to help conduct the survey. Volunteers walk the streets to provide data on who is homeless and where they are located. Volunteers under the age of 18 must volunteer with an adult and everyone must complete the registration forms online at http://www.santamonicahomelesscount.com.

There are a variety of tasks required during the count, but the most basic is to walk several miles of the city counting the number of homeless individuals. Volunteers receive a brief training the night of the count and officials said the process has proven very rewarding for everyone involved.

“Volunteers that have done it in the past almost always return and do it year after year,” said Brian Hardgrave, an administrative analyst with Santa Monica’s Human Services Division. “They find it to be a really valuable use of their time.”

He said Santa Monica’s civically engaged population has repeatedly cited homelessness as a significant problem within the city. Hardgrave said the count is a meaningful way for residents to get involved because it enables volunteers to personally connect with the issue while being part of the solution.

“We have to understand the breadth of the problem … the more robust and accurate our data, the better grasp we have on the size and scope of the problem in our community,” he said. “Both federally and local, that helps us track trends over time, as well as come up with better rationale for funding.”

Hardgrave said there are some challenges associated with the count. It happens rain or shine, overnight and during the winter months. However, he said the actual work is something anyone can do and it’s a relatively small time commitment for what amounts to a huge gain for those involved.

“It does lead to changes and it impacts the lives, not only of the people experiencing homelessness, but the volunteers as well,” he said.

Last year, volunteers found 738 homeless individuals in Santa Monica, a decrease from 742 (0.5 percent) in 2014. The street count increased due to renovations at several local shelters that reduced the number of beds available and volunteers also found an increase in the number of individuals sleeping in vehicles. Overall, the count has shown a decline in homelessness over time.

To register or for more information, visit http://www.santamonicahomelesscount.com.