Officials said the number of homeless in Los Angeles County was up just over 4% this year compared with double digits previously. The numbers seem to defy what we see on the streets - and even some unhoused are laughing at the results.
"LAHSA came back in this area with zero people homeless living on the streets?" said unhoused resident Bill Young. "[Laughs] wow, that's funny."
Bill Young and his friends could only laugh after learning about parts of the latest L.A. Homeless Count. For six years, Young and his friends said they have been homeless, living with their dogs in vans located in the parking lot of the Westminster Dog Park in Venice. And they're not alone.
According to Young's unofficial count, there are at least seven people, in addition to his friends, living at the park. However, the official 2022 count by the L.A. Homeless Services Authority, or LAHSA, showed a total unsheltered population of zero people at Westminster.
"I think it's (expletive), excuse my language," said Young. "Here's the proof."
At their press conference announcing the count, LAHSA officials were upbeat.
"There are lots of good things in the numbers today," said one official.
They claim the number of homeless went up by just 4.1% in L.A. County and 1.7% in the city of LA from 2020 to 2022.
"The numbers are suggesting there's a flattening of the curve," said another official
But are the numbers accurate?
"LAHSA did not get the count right," said volunteer Jessica Rogers. "Nowhere close. Nowhere near."
Rogers was one of the thousands who volunteered to count the homeless back in February.
"I was scared for my life," she said.
She went block by block in the area where Bill Young and his friends live in Venice. Where LAHSA showed zero, she counted 297. Rogers documented the number on the app provided by LAHSA. However, since the app continuously crashed, Rogers said she texted in the results instead. Despite this, her number of 297 on the official LAHSA count was reported as zero.
"I remember very well what I saw and where I saw it and what it was like," Rogers said. "And to find out that LAHSA recorded zero people on the streets that night is heartbreaking and gut-wrenching."
The inconsistencies have garnered some questions regarding the accuracy of the count.
"Yes, we're questioning some of these numbers," said Dan Flamming, president of the nonprofit research group Economic Roundtable. "Had 94 unsheltered in 2020 and this year's count had zero."
Flamming is going through the numbers and found some hard to explain. He found roughly half of the areas counted had fewer unsheltered homeless in 2022 compared to the last count in 2020. Additionally, 335 areas that had unsheltered homeless in 2020 now reported zero.
"It's hard to reconcile with what I see as I drive around the city," he said.
LAHSA is the same agency where we caught employees throwing cases of food in the dumpster that were supposed to go to the homeless. The agency has an $800 million budget and has been under attack by both the city and county for not doing enough to combat the homeless problem.
"What do they say? Numbers don't lie but people lie," said Jay Handel.
Handel chairs the homeless committee for the LA Neighborhood Councils.
"I wouldn't count it out," Handel said when asked about LAHSA manipulating the numbers. "Knowing how unhappy the county and city are with LAHSA it would not shock me."
When asked about the possibility of LAHSA manipulating the numbers, Chief Programs Officer Molly Rysman vehemently responded with "absolutely not." She said the count is just an estimate and admitted the app was a problem.
"I wouldn't say it didn't work," Rysman said as she defended the app. "There were some challenges."
She claimed that Rogers' missing 297 in Venice may have ended up being counted in another area and maintains that this year was an accurate count.
"Our goal is to get a regional estimate," Rysman said. "Assigning the data per census track was complicated this year because of technological issues. We believe we got the best regional estimate we could."
But to those living on the streets, they say their count is the one that counts.
"It's never been zero," said Young's friend. "Actually, right now it's probably the highest I've ever seen it."
LAHSA maintains the numbers are as accurate as they can be but they have dumped the app used in the last count and have replaced it with another one.
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