DOWNEY – Volunteers from the City of Downey spread out across the community Tuesday night in an effort to accurately tally the homeless population as a part of the three day 2016 Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) Homeless Count.
The event takes place annually, and gives government officials valuable information to work with in their attempt to aid the homeless community in LA County.
According to LAHSA Chief Financial Officer Stuart Jackson, the homeless count identifies who is homeless and where they are located.
“The homeless count gives us information we need to allocate those resources,” said Jackson. “So we know where the hotspots are to address homelessness, where to build housing for the homeless or shelters for the homeless, where to allocate those resources to end homelessness.”
This is the largest homeless census in the nation this year, involving more than 7,000 volunteers from over 150 deployment sites.
The Downey effort was headquartered out of First Baptist Church at 8348 3rd Street. Volunteers were required to check in, fill out paper work, and watch a brief training video before dispatching in teams of two to four. Teams are usually split up into a driver, a navigator, and one to two “counters.”
Safety was stressed to each team before departing, with everyone being advised not to leave their vehicles unless they felt they absolutely needed to. A Downey Police Department officer was on site to brief the volunteers, and DPD’s dispatch was provided in case of emergency.
Still, this was more just a precaution than an actual threat of danger, according to site coordinator Alex Gaytan.
“I think if you go to Skid Row, that’s where you would probably see a little more danger…it’s pretty safe because most of our people actually went out and they’re going to do observations in their cars.”
Amidst the number of volunteers was Downey Mayor Alex Saab and Mayor Pro Tem Fernando Vasquez, who both briefly addressed a room full of volunteers before departing for the count.
“These people are our neighbors. They’re not aliens; they are people who by whatever it may be…they’re there,” said Saab.
“The outpour of support from the community for tonight’s event is overwhelming,” said Vasquez. “To be able to show Downey truly cares about all people regardless of what situation they find themselves in. Tonight really is a testament to our community. We look forward to seeing the data to secure the resources that we need for those less fortunate.”
Former Downey mayor Mario Guerra joined Saab and Vasquez on their count effort. Saab and Guerra have both done the count for several years.
“We did this the first year, and the first year we actually went on the side of the riverbed,” said Guerra. “We actually were able to find a homeless veteran living on the side of the 105 freeway. That’s just fuel. That just gave us the inspiration.”
Gaytan said that he believes participating in the homeless count is an eye opening experience for each volunteer. However he hopes that many will not just try to give money or food the next time they see a homeless individual.
“It’s not about going out and giving people food,” said Gaytan. “It’s about collaborating with different organizations and finding the needs and addressing the needs directly instead of everyone doing their own thing.”