Count: Recording the number of people on the streets is an annual event. SMDP Photo

Officials have postponed the annual Homeless Count both at the county level and in Santa Monica due to the current surge in coronavirus cases.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) announced the postponement of the 2022 Greater Los Angeles Point-in-Time (PIT) Homeless Count last week. The Santa Monica area is now scheduled for the county count on Feb. 23 and Santa Monica officials said they would change the city count to align with the new county date. The count was originally scheduled for the end of January.

“The new date is Feb. 23. Santa Monica’s count will be pushed to the new date and we are making necessary changes to planning and will have an update to volunteers this week,” said Santa Monica spokeswoman Constance Farrell. “We will continue to recruit as we still need volunteers for a successful count.”

LAHSA cited protecting the health and safety of its volunteers, staff, and people experiencing homelessness as the reason for the delay, in light of the current COVID-19 omicron variant surge in Los Angeles County.

“While we work to ensure an accurate Homeless Count, we cannot ignore the surging number of positive COVID-19 cases across our region,” said LAHSA Executive Director Heidi Marston. “Even with safety precautions such as moving training online, developing outdoor deployment sites, and keeping households together, moving forward with a count in January places our unhoused neighbors, volunteers, staff, and the accuracy of the Count at risk.”

Organizers had already made adjustments for the post-Covid world.

Deployment sites were moved outside, training sessions became digital, signups were encouraged among existing groups to limit contact with strangers and the count itself will be conducted via smartphone instead of paper sheets.

“The Homeless Count is an essential tool in giving us a point-in-time snapshot of homelessness. Data from the Count is used to inform the delivery of services and programs for people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles,” said Marston. “This decision is our best path to ensure the accuracy of the Homeless Count without putting the health and safety of persons experiencing homelessness, volunteers, and the community at risk.”

The count is required by federal agencies to determine funding for homelessness programs. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires the event every two years but local municipalities have historically conducted it on an annual basis. However, it was canceled last year due to concerns over COVID-19. Officials have said the availability of vaccinations enabled the resumption of the Homeless Count for 2022 with appropriate precautions.

In 2020, the last year the count occurred, 907 people were recorded 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.