USC Students Active in Homelessness Count

by Matthew Lee and Brenda Wiewel

How it works

Clementina Verjan, LA County Homeless Count Coordinator, reports that more than 8,000 volunteers signed up to participate in the largest homeless count in the nation last month (January 2020). Over 250 of them were from USC. Teams of volunteers walked 2,163 census tract areas. Other teams surveyed people to learn more information about their status. The numbers, demographic information, and data points coming out of the Homeless Count will provide a picture of the current state of homelessness in LA County. Professor Ben Henwood, PhD, Suzanne Dworak Peck School of Social Work, is the research leader at USC. He creates teams of students and formerly homeless individuals who play the key role of gathering detailed information through individual surveys from 4,000 people that tell more about who is on our streets and ensure that homeless youth are also counted. Once all of the data from these surveys and the visual census tract tallying is collected, the USC Schaeffer Center reviews and analyzes the information prior to submitting it to the county who will report to the public and plan how best to help.

Who are the volunteers doing visual tallying?

One of the USC student volunteers for the Los Angeles homeless count was Alec Vandenberg (Public Policy/Public Administration, ’20) who has participated in the annual homeless count tally as a volunteer each of the last four years. He wants to see homeless neighbors “treated with dignity and respect as human beings.” He and fellow students walk the streets and count who they see.

Who are the surveyors?

Kayleigh Hollum (Public Policy, ’22) cares about homelessness and has become a committed volunteer at the student -run resource for homeless college students, the Trojan Shelter. She also works with the USC team to collect surveys so help is available for this vulnerable population. Before she started surveying, Hollum’s friends were concerned for her safety, based on the general public stigma attached to homelessness. Recently, she described her surveying experience with the count as “transformative.”

She found out how some people became homeless, such as the woman who has leukemia and became displaced due to domestic violence. “It makes you excited to see who you will meet each day. Now, I can explain to my friends the real story of why people may be homeless,” says Hollum.

Emma Dessau (Annenberg, ‘20) also volunteers with the Trojan Shelter as part of the student board and the homeless count for youth. Her experience with the youth count provided key information about locations for where youth may be found. “By participating with the homelessness youth count, I was a small part of a larger cause dedicated to seeing, supporting, and caring for one of our city’s most vulnerable populations,” says Dessau.

Vandenberg, Hollum, and Dessau have seen firsthand the humanity of people on our streets, learning that the they are, first and foremost, people just like us.