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Los Angeles County’s annual homeless count is a civic ritual bringing thousands of volunteers together in a common cause. It is also a reckoning with the shortcomings of all that’s been done to salve the county’s most perplexing human crisis.

So its cancellation this year due to the risk of spreading the coronavirus has had a multifaceted fallout — a loss of civic engagement, uncertainty over how much the COVID-19 pandemic has added to homelessness and, possibly most consequential, the potential loss of federal dollars that would be triggered by a higher count.

But for those who see sharp and timely data as a keystone in the fight against homelessness, the hiatus has created an opportunity to reimagine a process that is inherently blunt and slow.

“Is now a time to really look at a way to do the count differently?” asked Jennifer Hark-Dietz, deputy chief executive officer and executive director of PATH, a statewide homeless housing and services agency. “I love the idea of a data system that kind of replaces this three-day count, to some degree.”

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