More than 5,000 volunteers have spent three nights canvassing the streets of Los Angeles County looking for the county's more than 50,000 homeless, most of whom are far from Skid Row.
The volunteers worked Tuesday through Thursday in 72 cities and 22 communities in the 2013 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, coordinated by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
LAHSA has been conducting the homeless count every two years since 2005, as required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for cities who want to participate in Homeless Assistance Programs, Executive Director Michael Arnold said.
The numbers help HUD officials determine which areas have the biggest homeless populations and where best to allocate federal dollars, Arnold said. And the count helps Homeless Services Authority allocate HUD funds at the local level.
Arnold said LAHSA brings in about $80 million in a year in federal funding for homeless services.
"I think HUD's logic makes a lot of sense to me. It's hard to fix something you don't understand," Arnold said. "If you don't know who is homeless or how many homeless you have in the community, how could you possibly develop a plan to end homelessness?"
LAHSA is responsible for tabulating the homeless population in all of Los Angeles County other than Pasadena, Long Beach and Glendale, which conduct their own counts.
The LAHSA count relies on community volunteers, who spend about three hours after dark walking or driving local streets and visually counting people sleeping on the street, in vehicles or in encampments. Volunteers do not engage anyone they find.
"(Our count is) probably one of the largest logistical coordinating efforts in the country around homelessness," he said.
In 2011, the Homeless Services Authority recorded 45,000 homeless in Los Angeles County, in addition to 7,000 from the counts in Pasadena, Long Beach and Glendale.
Arnold said the data from this year's count will be released in the summer.
Jeremy Sidell, a spokesman for Los Angeles-based People Assisting the Homeless, said the count helps homeless service organizations know how they are doing and how best to focus their efforts in the future.
"We understand that the numbers that are counted translate into the dollars that are available," Sidell said. "But we also work really hard to reduce and end homelessness every day, so it's good to have a benchmark to see how we are doing as a community and kind of reassess our goals as an organization."
Todd Palmquist, executive director of the San Gabriel Valley Consortium on Homelessness, said "homelessness has got such a new face over the last few years because of the economy."
"Where homelessness was always the person pushing the shopping carts with all their belongings, what you are finding now is the homeless are more families, they are seniors, they are transitional-aged youth, they are veterans, they are people that just got stuck in the middle of this," Palmquist said.
And for this perhaps less obvious homeless population to get help, said the Rev. Sheldon Hess of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, cities and individuals have to know they're there - which is where the count comes in.
"It's a process that helps cities recognize that, yes, there are homeless people. It's a city learning experience," Hess said. "It's a tough issue. It's getting better resources than it ever has in the past, but it still an uphill battle."
For more information on the Homeless Count, visit www.theycountwillyou.org.