Santa Monica Lookout Opinion
Homeless Count Is a 'Comically Wretched Scam'

Dear Editor,

LA County’s most recent homeless count results bring to mind the comedic Marx Brothers scam that delivers its punch line when the skeptical victim is asked, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”

Our own eyes can easily see filthy public spaces and homeless crime statistics so I will not belabor those here (“Theft, Assaults Drove Increase in Crime Last Year,” February 14, 2024).

Additionally, news stories have presented well-documented problems with the most recent homeless count. I will elaborate on those and present two more ("Homeless Population Drops in First County-Run Count," June 28, 2024).

Among the well-documented problems: in this inaugural year of LA County managing the homeless count in Santa Monica, they cut by at least 67 percent the number of people counting the homeless population here ("Few Volunteers, Tech Glitches Hamper Homeless Count," January 29, 2024).

Worse yet, those fewer counters suffered fundamentally the same technical equipment glitches that previously yielded a homeless population of zero in an area of Venice where residents, volunteers actually doing the counting, and news media all verified, with their own eyes, was teeming with homeless.

And, not to forget, the last time the County’s homeless count in Santa Monica was directly compared to the City’s own count, the County’s tally fell 100 short of the total counted by the City’s volunteers.

Surprise! Both Venice and Santa Monica are in the County’s Westside “service planning area” that reported a 20 percent decline in homelessness this year. A reduction perhaps not as difficult to achieve as you might think once you issue faulty counting equipment or decimate the workforce by 67 percent.

I offer two more problematic elements of this comically wretched scam, as well as two suggestions for desperately needed improvements.

First, it is a raging conflict of interest for the County bureaucrats (LAHSA) who are tasked with solving our region’s spreading homelessness epidemic to write their own report card by also managing the homeless count so they can then crow about their own “progress” in solving the epidemic.

Second, and left unsaid by boasting bureaucrats and their enabling apologists: the pace of their so-called “progress” would require over 180 years and multiple billions of dollars to house even half the County’s homeless population. For them to label such nonsense “progress” reveals their chosen methods do not work.

What can be done to correct this hot mess in future years? Here’s what municipal authorities, such as the Santa Monica City Council, should demand of the County and its conniving collaborators:

First, appoint a fully vetted independent organization to manage the homeless count and hold them accountable for quality control. While it is strategically pragmatic to consolidate the count under a single entity, that single entity cannot be the same one that is tasked with solving the problem being measured by the count.

(How to pay for this shift? Find the money in LAHSA’s budget. An agency so ineffective in both its operations and its conception of “progress” no doubt wastes money elsewhere.)

Second, set robust goals and hold taxpayer-funded housing agencies and non-profits accountable for meeting them. After all, if they’re telling us they reduced homelessness by 20% across a sizable area of the Westside, why not task them with attaining a similar reduction everywhere?


Peter DiChellis
Santa Monica

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