Count: The annual event physically counts the number of individuals sleeping outside. Matthew Hall

Calling all civic-minded night owls: The City of Santa Monica is looking for additional volunteers for the 2022 homeless count.

Santa Monica’s count is happening in concert with homeless counts all over the country and is overseen by LAHSA, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

“In addition to being required by the U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), Count results measure how local & regional strategies are working and help inform how and where resources are deployed,” information from the City detailed.

The annual count, which is set to take place from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. overnight from Feb. 23-24, is back after a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic, making this year’s tally as important as ever.

Those interested in volunteering may sign up at surveymonkey.com/r/smhcount2022.

Volunteers for past counts will notice some changes due to the ongoing pandemic. Training is being moved online and data collection will take place on personal smartphones. Deployment times will be staggered, with volunteer teams given instructions on when to arrive.

Though individuals are welcome to sign up, organizers wrote that they prefer volunteers form their own teams of 3-4 people “who are already part of your ‘pandemic bubble’ or that you would otherwise feel comfortable riding with in one car.” Teams may be assigned to walk two to three miles; anyone who is not able to walk that distance may notify organizers prior to the event.

Vaccinations are required for all volunteers except those who qualify for a medical/disability or religious exemption (who must notify organizers no later than Jan. 10)—anyone whose exemption is approved must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before the count begins.

Speaking to the Daily Press in November, Maggie Willis, Human Services Administrator, Community Services, emphasized safety measures put in place for volunteers.

“We just want to assure people that we’re going to take all the steps we can to make sure that we do this in a way that’s safe and adheres to the best public health standards,” Willis said at the time.

Organizers also emphasized that no particular skills or previous experience was required and anyone ages 18 and up was welcome to join, or teens ages 16-17 accompanied by a parent/guardian.

“Volunteer training will be provided in advance on a virtual platform and count materials will be distributed at the deployment site on the night of the Count,” a description provided by the city stated. “This is a visual count only. You will not be asked to engage with or interact with persons that appear to be homeless.”

Because there was no count last year, Willis explained in an email, the 2020 numbers helped inform the city’s approach to addressing homelessness. Demands created by the pandemic also made having specific numbers less pivotal, Willis added.

“Due to the critical need to help vulnerable unsheltered people stay safe and healthy, efforts in 2020 were less informed by numbers and more focused on getting people basic needs like food and water, hygiene supplies, PPE, and temporary restrooms and wash stations, as well as securing motel rooms for people at high-risk of COVID,” Willis wrote.

The most recent homeless count, which took place on Jan. 22, 2020, tallied 907 people experiencing homelessness in Santa Monica, according to data provided by the City. That was an eight percent decrease over the previous year’s count, when 985 individuals were counted.

In contrast, LAHSA’s overall count in 2020 (encompassing all of LA County except Glendale, Pasadena and Long Beach) registered 63,706 individuals, a 13 percent increase from 2019. LAHSA is also seeking volunteers for its county-wide count this year.

This year’s results, which are to be released alongside LAHSA’s regional count, are expected in the late spring or early summer.

In 2020, about 350 volunteers came aboard to help out, and Willis said this year they were looking for 300 volunteers to step up and participate in the event.

More information on the count is available at santamonica.gov/santa-monica-homeless-count.

*This story was updated to indicate the homeless count, originally scheduled for January, has been delayed and is now set for Feb. 23.

emily@smdp.com