File photo

The largest regional homeless count in the United States is looking for volunteers to help tally the number of homeless people sleeping on Santa Monica streets on Jan. 24. The count takes place overnight – from about 10:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. – to best capture the number of homeless sleeping in Santa Monica. Organizers need about 250 volunteers to do the count efficiently.

“It’s an opportunity to engage people and meet your neighbors who are interested in being part of a solution on homelessness,” said Margaret Willis, Human Services Administrator. “It’s a serious subject but it’s a lot of fun to go out together and meet your neighbors and meet new people and walk the city.”

More people are living on the street in Santa Monica than at any time since the City started conducting a yearly count of the homeless in 2009. Last year’s count found 581 people sleeping on the street or on the beach, up nearly 40 percent from the previous year. The number of people living in shelters and institutions rose 9 percent year over year, from 312 to 340 in 2017.

“This surge has not only raised the number of homeless individuals in our midst, but included a disturbing change in the incidence and severity of untreated mental illness, substance abuse and anti-social behavior among the homeless population,” read a recent City report on homelessness. “This has eroded our community’s sense of Santa Monica as a safe and desirable place to live, play, and do business.”

Last month, the City unveiled a plan to address the local homeless boom- including plans to bring a “C3” outreach team to Santa Monica. The team members will be assigned to specific areas in the city to identify vulnerable individuals and engage in interventions to get them into stable housing. Police, Fire and library employees will be receiving additional training in the next year on how to best deal with homeless individuals and connect them with supportive services.

“The City’s new initiatives are still launching so we don’t expect to see them have an impact on the night of the count,” Willis said. “We’re going to wait until January 2019 to see the impact.”

Organizers do their best to accommodate groups but cannot guarantee placement together. Groups larger than three people may be split between separate teams. The count takes place rain or shine and volunteers are encouraged to wear layers and comfortable shoes, as some routes require walking two to three miles. Training takes place the night of the event.

The number could impact the amount of federal funds the city receives to combat homelessness.

Volunteers for the 2018 Homeless Count have the option of driving (counting from their cars as they pass through alleys and streets, walking or a combination of the two. Volunteers should bring a water bottle, cell phone and charger. A flashlight can be helpful. There is no storage for additional items, so be prepared to carry whatever you bring.


Volunteers must be 18 years old. Younger teenagers (16 and up) may participate if their parent or guardian is also volunteering and will be placed on the same team.

Those interested should visit


Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press