Political Homeless Numbers: Can We Count On It?

By | Jul 8, 2014

homeless count

I was never very good at math when I was in school, but even I can tell that the homeless count numbers for Los Angeles are clearly laden with politics.

Take the latest debate over the number of people living on the streets of the City of Angels. Of the 54,000 Angelinos who are homeless, the federal government is questioning the existence of 18,000. They think the number should be around 36,000 instead.

Arguing over 36,000 vs. 54,000 people on the streets, without having a funded plan to house them, is a moot discussion. In a city that has hundreds of thousands of millionaires, does it really matter if we have 36,000 people living on our streets like animals instead of 54,000?

The debate is an insult to those on the streets. Allowing so many people to be homeless—more than the total population of some American towns—is a joke. And that joke is on the people living on the streets. Political and societal elites argue over the total number, instead of arguing over how to house them.

They accuse the counters of not counting accurately, yet they do not provide enough resources to perform the task. Counting the total number of people experiencing homelessness in 88 cities, (the number of cities in Los Angeles County), is a monumental task. It is not like counting a few hundred people in small town America.

Of course, scapegoating is an American pastime. Taking responsibility for housing the most impoverished Americans is hard. It is much easier to steer the conversation toward why our counting of them is inaccurate.

Sounds like a tactic that a political consultant might suggest: if you can’t answer the question, change the subject!

Sure, counting the number of people living on Los Angeles’ streets has not been 100% accurate. But, without the necessary resources, L.A. has to do some estimating, and even perform phone polling. The accuracy rate is lower than it would be if we counted every head in person.

But how can we end homelessness without knowing how many people we need to help?

If Los Angeles is going to end homelessness, it needs the resources to count accurately. That means a real head count (not estimates or phone polls) every year, and enlisting every city in the county to count its own people.

Then, when the count is accurate, the City of Angels must create a fully-funded plan that actually houses them. No more shuffling funds from one department to another, or from one foundation priority to another. A fully-funded plan to house 36,000—or 54,000—people means new resources.

Then, I think we can count on our leaders to actually erase the embarrassing American social issue.