The Los Angeles homeless count has become an annual civic drama, starting with thousands of volunteers spreading across the county on three nights in January and ending five months later with the unveiling of the new number: 52,765 this year.
The practice has been criticized for its implied precision – as if it were possible to count a diffuse and reclusive population down to the last individual. But the effort has also faced criticism for leaving out important information, such as how many people become homeless during the year and how long they remain on the street.
To fill in those gaps, the Economic Roundtable examined data collected by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority in 2017.
After months of analysis, the group came up with a new statistical approach that yields a very different number: 102,278 – reflecting the number of people who become homeless at one time or another during the year.
It means that for just about every person living on the street or in a shelter on a given night, another person was homeless at least once during the prior year, some of them more than once, the group found.
Daniel Flaming, president of the Economic Roundtable, said the findings can provide a better understanding of why some people escape homelessness quickly after a job loss or an eviction while others become persistently homeless.
That, in turn, could lead to better use of scarce resources, Flaming said. The analysis, published earlier this month, also looked at how long people stay homeless.