Pasadena’s annual tally of unhoused residents will no longer occur in the final weeks of January, the postponement spurred by the relentless winter surge in COVID-19 cases gripping the region, officials announced on Thursday, Jan. 13.

Pasadena joins Long Beach, which announced on Wednesday that its annual tally of those living without permanent shelter was pushed back from later this month to Thursday, Feb. 24.

It was unclear if the countywide effort to audit the unhoused would also be pushed back.

The annual Point-In-Time Count, scheduled to be conducted rain or shine by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), is being done as requirement by the federal government, which funds the local services provided to unhoused people throughout the county, with the exception of Long Beach, Pasadena and Burbank. Those cities do their own counts and apply for funding from the federal government separately.

The county audit was postponed last year amid the pandemic, though some informal counting was done by some local agencies. But as of Thursday morning, LAHSA’s count was still scheduled to occur:

–Jan. 25 in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys;

–Jan. 26 in West Los Angeles, southeast Los Angeles and the South Bay; and

–Jan. 27 in the Antelope Valley, Metro Los Angeles and South Los Angeles.

During such counts, officials look for meaningful data they hope will further their understanding of the local homeless population and better inform resource allocation for services and programs.

But Pasadena city leaders, who announced the new date of its Homeless Point in Time Count in a news release Thursday, said the rising daily pandemic case counts forced the delay.

This year, Pasadena volunteers were scheduled to meet Tuesday, Jan. 25, and Wednesday, Jan. 26, to count, administer a survey and distribute hygiene kits.

“After careful consideration and consultation with the Public Health Department and local homeless services providers,” the release said, Pasadena has opted seek an exception from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that allows for the postponement of the count until Feb. 22.

“The Department of Housing came to this decision primarily due to concerns stemming from the current surge’s impact on volunteer availability, especially among professional street outreach workers from local homeless service agencies which are currently navigating staffing challenges due to the surge,” the release said. “The Department is equally concerned with preserving the capacity of our hospitals and healthcare system amid the surge.”

Just this week, Huntington Hospital’s president and CEO Dr. Lori J. Morgan shared that Pasadena’s lone emergency room is swamped with patients so officials have been forced to set up makeshift tents and postpone elective surgeries.

“Quite frankly,” Morgan said to City Council on Monday, “our health care workers are exhausted.”

Pasadena’s Public Information Officer Lisa Derderian noted Wednesday that Pasadena’s coronavirus dashboard data is lagging two days behind, but the city confirmed Pasadena Public Health Department has recorded 20,000 cases of COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic.

On Monday, PPHD posted 424 confirmed and 19 probable cases. In addition, there were four deaths, Derderian said. Ages of the deceased ranged from 65 to 104 years old — Pasadena’s oldest COVID-linked death to date.

Los Angeles County’s cumulative number of cases throughout the pandemic surpassed the 2 million mark on Monday. And there are nearly 4,000 people with the coronavirus in county hospitals, according to the latest figures released by the state Wednesday. The spike in the number of those patients in intensive care rose from 513 Tuesday to 536, which is an increase of over 200 people in the last eight days.

“While ensuring the safety of volunteers and participants had been at the crux of planning efforts well before the omicron surge,” Pasadena’s Housing Department intends to implement heightened safety measures when the count takes place in February based on recommendations from the Public Health Department, according to the release. All volunteers will be provided with an N95 mask and required to take a rapid antigen test that will be provided by the city within 24 hours of the count.

“All hygiene kits distributed during the unsheltered count will contain N95 masks and surgical masks,” according to a news release. And any volunteer who has begun a period of quarantine or isolation within ten days prior to the count will not be permitted to participate.

Every two years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires LAHSA and other similar agencies to do a “point-in-time” count, to reflect the number of unhoused people on a given night.

HUD’s definition for homelessness is limited to people living in shelters and on the streets, including in tents and vehicles.

The count does not include people who are “couch-surfing,” although other tallies done by such agencies as the Los Angeles Unified School District have included them.

According to the 2020 count, the county’s homeless population increased by 12.7% over the previous year, while the city of Los Angeles’ homeless population jumped by 14.2%.

In January 2019, Los Angeles County had 58,936 people experiencing homelessness, but by January 2020 the number rose to 66,433. The city of Los Angeles counted 36,165 in 2019, and 41,290 in 2020. Pasadena’s 2020 count of 527 people experiencing homelessness was considered by officials to be largely unchanged from 2019.

The county received an exemption from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and was not required to conduct a 2021 count due to the pandemic. The decision was made after LAHSA determined it was not safe to gather 8,000 volunteers, given guidance from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and taking into account stay-at-home orders and curfews due to COVID-19.

Though scattered short-term housing efforts have been built recently,  including an array of “tiny home” villages and other shelters, officials fear the county’s homeless crisis deepened during the pandemic. Experts say longer-range housing strategies are still insufficient. Debate on the topic has dominated debate among elected officials at the state, county and local levels and is expected to frame many key election races on the horizon.

If you are interested in volunteering for the Pasadena Homeless Count, now taking place on Feb. 22 from 8-10 p.m. and 6-8 a.m. Feb. 23, visit https://pasadenapartnership.org/volunteer-homeless-count/ to sign up.

Questions should be directed to Dan Davidson at dan@rosecitycoffee.org.

For more information on the countywide count, a page answering frequently asked questions can be found here: https://www.theycountwillyou.org/faq2022-page.

Staff writer Elizabeth Chou contributed to this report 

California

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