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USC partners with government agencies on annual homeless count

University experts guide surveys, analyze data — and hit the streets, too.

students working with homeless
Student volunteers of the USC chapter of Share A Meal hand a meal to Mary Morgan. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Every year since 2005, Los Angeles has had volunteers canvassing its streets, counting every homeless person they see.

The count – happening Jan. 24-26 this year — helps inform policy, programs and services for one of the country’s largest homeless populations.

And this year, for the first time, USC will be a partner in the homeless count — guiding the methodology, conducting demographic surveys on the streets and in shelters and analyzing the data for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), a joint county-city agency that leads the count.

“To do a homeless count is a massive undertaking that has a lot of complexity so it’s really important that we have experts helping to guide our methodology,” said Sarah Mahin, director of policy and planning at LAHSA. “The knowledge USC has about L.A. County makes a great deal of difference.”

It’s a complex and expansive project because of the county’s unique homeless geography — roughly 75 percent of its population is unsheltered and living on the streets. On top of that, it’s the most populous county in the nation and covers nearly 5,000 square miles.

Besides being helpful on the backend, USC will be on the streets as well. Researchers will conduct demographic surveys to better understand the county’s population.

The survey hopes to fill gaps in data, reaching harder to find populations — such as youth, families and women, said Karen Lincoln, an associate professor at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

The surveys will be conducted over a few months following the count.

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