A count of homeless people in Long Beach has been canceled after the city received a waiver from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Cities and counties receiving money from HUD to pay for services to homeless people are required to take a physical count in January every other year — 2021 is a scheduled year.
But jurisdictions, led by Los Angeles County, have been asking for — and receiving — a waiver this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Long Beach joined that effort, according to Paul Duncan, the city's homeless services officer.
"Everyone in Southern California received a waiver," Duncan said. "We're not doing the street count. It's very volunteer-dependent. We looked at trying to do it with just city employees, but that just wasn't doable."
Fears of spreading COVID-19 are cited as the primary reason for the cancellation. In past counts, teams of three and four people canvassed the town to count and engage with people living on the streets.
Long Beach went past the federal requirements and conducted a count in 2020. That tallied 2,034 people classified as homeless, living in shelters or on the streets. That was a 7% increase from the 2019 count.
Partially as a response to the pandemic, the city and county have created more shelter beds over the last half of 2020. The winter shelter on Orange Avenue, paid for and overseen by LA County, stayed open all year and remains open today. The first phase of the Atlantic Farms Bridge Housing Community, 6841-6845 Atlantic Ave., opened in October with 125 beds, although only about half are being used now, Duncan said. And both the city and the county have purchased motels in Long Beach for use in Project Home Key, using rooms as transitional housing.
"What we do know is the need is still far greater than the number of beds we have available," Duncan said. "The need continues to grow."
Duncan said it is hard to say whether the on-street homeless population has increased or decreased, but that the visibility of homeless people definitely has increased.
"Now, there are no public spaces, libraries and more, for them to go to during the day," he said. "One sector has definitely increased. There are a lot of people who have been released from jail or prison, and when they exit, there's no plan for housing."
Moratoriums on evictions have kept a lot of people in housing, Duncan said, and the anxiety in that group has risen because they fear becoming homeless when the moratoriums end.
"But we have the potential, the hope, that with the federal aid we'll be able to help them," he added. "It we can help pay back rent, that will make a difference."