If you were homeless, where would you sleep?
Probably a car, if you had one, or a bus bench. Perhaps a park, behind bushes that would provide some seclusion, or in a church parking lot where people may feel a hint of safety.
These were the areas of town that deployment coordinators from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) advised volunteers to pay particular attention to as they canvassed South Pasadena streets Tuesday night looking to count people who appeared to live on the street. Gathered at Holy Family Church's St. Joseph Center, three teams of 11 people received a map with boundaries that they were responsible for covering.
South Pasadena joined cities throughout Los Angeles County (except for Pasadena, Glendale and Long Beach, who do their own counts) in tallying the number of homeless living in their communities. The counts take place over three days and are by no means an exact science, said Rich Grimes, the South Pas coordinator. Still, the data will be analyzed to create a demographic survey that can be used to adjust the services needed in each community, he said.
"It's so important to have an idea of what kinds of resources are needed in all the different areas,'' he said.
In 2011, the count found a homeless population of 45,422 people, a drop of more than 2,000 from the 2009 count, when the tally was 47,572, according to LAHSA. It will be weeks before the current count is available.
Donning Volunteer T-shirts, the group split into teams, each person having been assigned one job: driver, navigator or counter. Safety was the most important thing Grimes repeated, as he handed out flashlights.
"These are to see your maps, not to shine onto a person or a makeshift shelter,'' he said, noting volunteers would spend the bulk of time in their cars, but if they needed to take a closer look on foot, they were not to approach anyone.
Patricia, a volunteer from University Hills who asked that her last name not be published, drove her team up and down pockets of neighborhoods between Meridian and Primrose avenues (east and west boundaries) and Mission Street and Alhambra Road (north and south boundaries).
A former Highland Park resident, Patricia said the only people she ever identified as homeless in South Pasadena were folks who used the Trader Joe's bathroom and hung out on the curb with covered grocery carts. She wondered where they spent their nights.
"You really don't see a lot of homeless here,'' she said, adding she chose the South Pasadena deployment because of its proximity to her home. Same with counter Carolnn Yong of Alhambra, and navigator Tracey, a vocational rehab specialist for the Department of Veterans Affairs, who also declined to give her last name.
The Tally List
Coordinators advised the volunteers they were looking for people who appeared to be living on the street, vehicles that people are living in, and all manner of makeshift shelters, such as tarps pulled over bushes in areas teeming with bags, blankets and bed rolls.
Two hours into the count, after cruising down several manicured, tree-lined streets brimming with Craftsman-style bungalows, Patricia's car rumbled onto a pothole-laden alley off Alhambra Road. It was a tarp stretched over a Dumpster that caught the volunteers' attention. A closer look, on foot, yielded no marks on the tally sheet.
And then the team pulled up to the Oak Tree Inn.
By 11 p.m. the restaurant had been closed for hours, and a couple of bundles looking to be clothes were stashed behind the business, somewhat blocked by a rusted tank. The team's decision: a check in the makeshift shelter column.
In the same strip mall, next to The Cleaning Place, a dark walkway led to a shopping cart filled with plucked recyclables and a stash of someone's belongings. Another check.
Three hours and many traversed miles into the count, Patricia's team produced a tally sheet with two marks.
"It felt good,'' Patricia said of her experience. "It's been a while since I've volunteered.''
And what would she and her teammates have been doing if not out participating in Tuesday's count?
"Sleeping,'' the trio said in unison.