Los Angeles County and City voters approved $4.75 billion for services and housing to combat homelessness. The annual Homeless Count is crucial for identifying how this money should be used to help people escape homelessness.

This report is the first time that Greater Los Angeles Homeless Counts from 2007 through 2017 have been viewed as a body of work rather than discrete annual snapshots. New discussions are taking place whether these figures present a consistent body of evidence or whether there are inconsistencies among counts, or with other data, indicating a need to strengthen the count methodology.

The top level finding is that the Homeless Count is valuable for providing a fresh picture of homelessness, and the count has become increasingly comprehensive in recent years. However, count data is not reliable enough to be used for comparing the attributes or number of homeless residents from different counts.

There are problems with comparing data from counts in different years because of shortcomings in the statistical tools for projecting data from people who were counted or surveyed onto the entire homeless population. Methodology that seemed reasonable when it was introduced in 2009 can now be seen to produce inconsistent estimates of the number of homeless residents and their attributes.

When information about the gender, ethnicity, age, and homeless history of the unsheltered homeless population is compared from one year to the next, there are large up and down shifts in the reported makeup of the population that do not appear plausible. In addition, there are indications that the Homeless Counts have under-estimated the number of people who are homeless.

Recommendations include new procedures for conducting the street count and demographic survey, more extensive volunteer training, and developing more reliable statistical methods. There are recommendations that the challenge of improving the accuracy of the Homeless Count should be shared by researchers, including those at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation and public agencies in the region that serve homeless residents.