L.A. County homeless count goes digital, raising concerns about its new app


Anne To/UT

A Director at LAHSA attended the Alhambra Homeless Count to help organize the event

Pens and clipboards were replaced with an app this year for hundreds of volunteers who participated in the annual Homeless Count organized by the Los Angeles Homeless Security Authority. 

The new tallying method aimed to improve safety for volunteers and the homeless but volunteers had mixed feelings about its accuracy and effectiveness.

With $190,000 in funding from the LAHSA, Akido Labs developed the app to show volunteers the location within A Census tract, and allow them to count unhoused folks there.

The numbers are tallied and released in June to allow resources to be better distributed to different areas and target services better.

“This count is about making sure nobody is left behind. These aren’t just statistics; these are stories, not numbers, these are narratives,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said at the event.

 Alhambra Mayor Katherine Lee said a digital count may be more accurate.

 “In the past, people have shown concern that it actually undercounts the homeless population because of the constraints,” Lee said.

In Alhambra, the city leans on the Alhambra Police Department to help with the homelessness crisis.

“Whenever officers encounter a homeless person, they will ask if they need services,” Lee said. “If they do need services, the police officer will see what funding is available. Sometimes we do provide vouchers; sometimes we do provide actual shelters.”

 In Alhambra, about half of the 90 volunteers who signed up online actually attended the count. Lee and Council Member Sasha Renee Perez participated in the event. Lee joined a volunteer group while Perez distributed Census tracts to various teams.

Before the count began, volunteers went through a guide on correctly counting their tracts with the application. Groups of two to three traveled in 50-degree weather with a flashlight and safety vest in hand.

As of last week, the app had a two-star rating on the app store. Many volunteers share their difficulty using it.

A photo of an app ratings
A screenshot of the Google Play Appstore for the Akido application used during the Homeless Count (Anne To/UT)

“I will add mine to the chorus of voices having trouble with the app…Before long, your screen flashes. I’m supposed to use it for the Long Beach count tomorrow, and I don’t know how much use I’ll be,” Elizabeth Lindau said in a Google Play Appstore review.

Lee said that her group did not experience difficulties with the new app, because volunteers received training beforehand. She noted that those who did not do the training could face difficulties.

Los Angeles County referred to LASHA for comments about the reviews.

LASHA Communication Specialist Christopher Yee  addressed the reviews: “I think there was definitely a learning curve with the app…if anyone did have significant troubles, we would have logged the irregularities and if there were too many irregularities, the Census tracts were recounted.”

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