Feds allow L.A. County to call off 2021 homeless count, citing COVID-19 concerns

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A homeless man stands outside tents on Skid Row in Los Angeles on Nov. 25, 2020, one day ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. (Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)

A homeless man stands outside tents on Skid Row in Los Angeles on Nov. 25, 2020, one day ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. (Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)

The federal government has allowed Los Angeles County to cancel its 2021 homeless count over concerns that it can’t be done safely or accurately during the coronavirus epidemic, it was announced Wednesday.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority had sought permission to avoid sending thousands of volunteers out into the streets in January to check on the homeless. Congress requires such counts every two years and uses the information to distribute resources for homeless services.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development granted an exemption and will keep federal funding in place for now, LAHSA said in a statement.

LAHSA, a joint city and county authority, is the lead agency in coordinating $70 million in federal, state and local funding to help the homeless. In recent years, as homelessness has grown, the agency has done the count nearly every year over several days each January. Thousands of volunteers fan out to count tents, RVs and cars housing people throughout the region.

Last year’s count estimated the county’s homeless population at more than 66,000. Nearly three-quarters were living in makeshift shelters such as tents or cars.

However, LAHSA said “there is no safe way to gather the 8,000 volunteers necessary” to perform the required 2021 count safely and accurately because of COVID-19 curfews and stay-at-home orders across the region, along with a lack of planning and recruitment time and the possible difficulty of procuring COVID-19 safety equipment for the volunteers.

In a motion passed Tuesday supporting LAHSA’s exemption request, the county Board of Supervisors said moving ahead with the count in the midst of the pandemic “would be a risky and challenging activity at best and a dangerous, superspreader event in the worst-case scenario, quickly infecting a high number of people with a very contagious and deadly disease.”

LAHSA still will count people living inside shelters and tally the number of beds and units available to homeless people through various government programs.

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