In the chill and drizzly pre-dawn hours, scores of Long Beach residents and city employees spread out around the city to count people living in encampments, in cars and on the streets.

The annual point-in-time count took place across Los Angeles and Orange counties this week, with Long Beach holding its count of unsheltered homeless on Thursday.


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The data is required to apply for some federal grants and other funding for homeless programs and housing, but it also helps the city understand who makes up the unhoused population here and how they might best be helped.

Once Long Beach releases the results (likely in April), most people will focus on the overall number of homeless people in the city.

Last year’s count found 3,447 unhoused people, more than two-thirds of them unsheltered. Whether the total is up or down in the 2024 tally could indicate how successful the city’s efforts were during the past year’s state of emergency.

Jon Hason gets counted as volunteers hit the streets for the annual homeless count in Long Beach, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Besides simply counting people and gathering demographic data, the volunteers and city workers conducting the count also ask people what led to them losing housing — for instance, unemployment or eviction. City Homeless Services Bureau Manager Paul Duncan said having that information helps the city craft solutions to those “upstream” issues.

Officials acknowledge the count is imperfect, but it’s the best source of information they have on people who aren’t enrolled in aid programs or otherwise part of “the system.”

“We want to understand not just the people who are accepting our services, but the people who may be declining our services for whatever reason and seeing are those populations different, what can we do to remove the barriers to getting that (help),” said Alvin Teng, a city special projects coordinator who oversees the homeless count.

One team that canvassed the Washington neighborhood encountered several people trying to keep dry in makeshift camps constructed of tarps and shopping carts; one man said he was a domestic abuse survivor, and a woman pushing a cart filled with her belongings said she’d suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Volunteer Inger Nelson said going out to talk to people is a way to get vital data, but she also thinks it can help build understanding and empathy.

“Too often [homeless is] used as a derogatory term,” she said. “I’m hoping by participating myself and other people participating that you understand that these are people and these are our neighbors.”

Reporter Maison Tran contributed to this story.