28 Feb Think You Know LA? Here’s What the 2023 Homeless Count Taught Me About My Home
Think You Know LA? Here’s What the 2023 Homeless Count Taught Me About My Home
By Caitlin Ginnaven, Marketing & Communications Associate
“If I was sleeping outside in this area, where would I be?”
It’s not a question that most of us have probably ever asked ourselves while walking the streets of Los Angeles, but when the question was posed to me during a training video for the 2023 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, I was struck. Where would I be? Where could I possibly feel safe on the streets?
This year was my first time participating in The Homeless Count, an annual multi-day, volunteer event organized by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) to count the number of unhoused individuals throughout LA County (last year, it was just shy of 70,000). LAHSA utilizes these numbers, tracked by volunteers through an app, to better provide and allocate services and resources for unhoused folks. This year on the nights of January 24 to 26, over 6,000 volunteers set off from deployment sites dotted across LA (including LTSC’s Terasaki Budokan) to scour streets, parks, stairways and other public spaces in search of people experiencing homelessness.
LTSC has hosted deployment sites for the Count for four years now, so as a new LTSC staff person, I volunteered in the hopes of gaining insight into some of the people and neighborhoods our organization seeks to help. Together, my team surveyed an assigned tract of Downtown LA near Budokan, and it was during this time that I turned to my colleague and eight-time Count participant, Stephen Saengpradap, for his extensive knowledge of the field.
“We all live in our little bubbles, our own neighborhoods and lifestyles. The Count is about making people feel involved, and responsible and empowered. Anyone and everyone, stepping in or stepping up, is a wonderful thing. You are needed, and you are wanted. Having newer perspectives helps us weary and weathered veterans be reminded of what we’re here for,” he said.
Prior to LTSC, Stephen served as a Shelter Case Manager for the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. He holds a Masters in Public Administration from Tseng College at CSUN, and he is a native Angeleno, like myself. He joined LTSC as a Housing Navigator back in April of last year to assist clients located in SPA-4 by building relationships and providing resources with the goal of moving them into housing. Since then however, his job and responsibilities have expanded and he now also holds the title of Homeless Outreach Specialist.
“Most of my days entail going around the neighborhood, checking in on folks who I’ve encountered or engaged with in the past. When there’s new encampments, I check in on those and follow up. I see if they’re in the HMIS (Homeless Management Information System) database where providers queue people up for opportunities, whether it’s interim housing or permanent supportive housing. I look at their files and see where I can pitch in,” he shared.
As we zigzagged by car through the streets of Downtown LA with our fellow teammates, Margaret Shimada, LTSC’s Director of Service Programs, and Sid Kato, a newly-appointed LTSC Board Member, us first-timers started to see the city through Stephen’s eyes. Where we might have once glazed over an unassuming stretch of sidewalk, Stephen recognized it as the spot where an unhoused man he knows frequently sleeps. Without hesitation, he jumped into action, dutifully stepping out of the car to take a look. As an observer, I was moved by his effortless compassion and surprised by the ease with which he approached the situation, clearly in his element having built deeper, long-term relationships with our unhoused neighbors.
By the end of the night, I found myself not only reexamining the way I view the city I’ve grown up in, but also struggling to understand how to make a meaningful impact on such a complex and pervasive issue. The Count, for all of the crucial data it provides, only offers a snapshot of a few nights once a year, and I’m just one volunteer out of thousands. But according to Stephen, along with additional volunteer opportunities and supporting organizations that provide services and advocate for policy change, sometimes it’s as simple as extending humanity to your unhoused neighbors.
“If you see someone on the streets, you could avoid eye contact and think, ‘It’s always going to be that way, there’s nothing I can do.’ Or, you could just ask them how their day is. If they’re in the neighborhood a lot, you can just be that constant person for them,” he said.
Learn more about the homelessness crisis by watching LTSC’s ‘Homesick’ webinar series on combating the homelessness crisis through community-based remedies.