Friday, January 26, 2007

Them Martini Republic folks are cynical...

The fine gents at Martini Republic link to our note on the LA Homeless Count and, well, they wanna hear some poop:

Guy—let us know, what do your bosses say? What are your instructions? How certain are you of the legitimacy of the count? Here’s our recent post on the homeless count, with links to all kinds of previous items.

To answer the question quite frankly, I'm *not* certain of the legitimacy of the count. I think the fact that LAHSA is relying so heavily on the homeless to count themselves is a major problem. At the location I was dispatched from on Tuesday night, paid counters (who, again, were by and large homeless people) outnumbered unpaid volunteers by about 5-to-1. And to be honest, the paid counters seemed significantly more interested in getting paid ($10 per hour in *cash*, remember) than in providing civic service.

That's not to say that I blame 'em. If I were homeless, I too would just want the cash. But what was to stop these small teams of paid counters (two or three per census tract) from taking their clipboard, map and tally sheet to the closest Taco Bell, hanging out, jotting down some imaginary numbers, and then returning several hours later (at the latest time possible, of course, in order to maximize the payoff)? Nothing, that's what, except for their own sense of self-motivation and personal responsibility. Well that's hunky dory, in theory, but if those homeless folks had access currently to self-motivation and personal responsibility, they wouldn't be homeless folks.

My guess is that LAHSA knows all of this. We unpaid volunteers were generally given much more in the way of verbal love 'n kisses at the training session than were paid workers, and we unpaid volunteers were also promised our choice of assignments, while paid workers were told they had to go where they were sent, like it or not. Given their druthers, I'm sure LAHSA would rather have pulled this whole thing off with 1,500 civic-minded, unpaid volunteers and just told the homeless to simply stay put and be counted. Or even better, I'm sure LAHSA would rather have skipped this whole business and determined LA County's homeless population via estimates and statitistical sampling (like they used to before Bush's new HUD rules came into effect in '05). LAHSA had neither of the above luxuries, and so they had to resort to Plan C: Pay the homeless to count the homeless.

So anyway, the short answer to the question is, no, I wouldn't bet my life on the legitimacy of this count.

And as for Martini Republic's earlier prognostication (vis a vis this count):

"Cynical prediction: all figures will point towards preserving and even augmenting the containment zone, and as we will see slightly more accurate counts this year and every subsequent year, accuracy in counting will be spun as “improvement” in homelessness, and that our policy is working."

I just don't know. Personally, I came away impressed by the sincerity of the LAHSA staff who trained and dispatched us. If those staffers are representative of the administrators they work for (I know, big "if"), then maybe this whole thing wasn't in service of some nefarious plan to hermetically seal the county's homeless in a 6-block jar. Maybe this whole thing really was just LAHSA doing what Uncle Sam said they had to.


Blogger michael said...

Joel John Roberts chimes in on this discussion over at LA's Homeless Blog: "After the County has spent over $100 million to address homelessness, LAHSA spends $60 million per year, and the City of L.A. is investing millions on Permanent Supportive Housing, my guess is that the final number will be lower. To show the public that things are getting better, after the millions and millions of dollars invested."

8:55 PM  

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