The downtown Los Angeles district is sometimes called the homeless capital of America as scores of tents and makeshift shelters are erected for the night, all along the sidewalks.
After dark, volunteers scour the vast region and tally up the number of homeless count that takes place every two years across the entire county. Ana Alvarez, who was helping with the count, said, "We don't get close to them. We try not to disturb them, because a lot of them are already asleep." Latoya Hawthorne, a census participant who works in a homeless women's refuge said, "It's important to know how many people live here, to assess the resources we need."
At the last count in 2013, Los Angeles had some 39,500 homeless people, and if you include those camping or staying with someone, the figure jumps to 60,000. According to current figures, some 3,000 people sleep on Skid Row's urine and garbage-strewn streets, their shelters made of cardboard, fabric or plastic and squeezed right next to each other. Volunteer Harry Batt said, "We counted 24 homeless individuals; we luckily didn't see any children or people under 18. It is very depressing, and a lot of the homeless are mentally ill."
According to official figures, out of some 630,000 homeless people in the United States, nearly 50,000 are former military personnel. Doran Mateik, a nurse who works regularly on Skid Row, said, "I've been coming here for seven years, I try to get to know them, to see how I can help them. Some of them have become my friends. I give them my address so they can receive some mail, or I try to assist them with the red tape."
The government claims that since 2010 the number of homeless vets has fallen by 33 percent, with most of them being 50 years or older who served in Vietnam or the first Gulf War, but not in the post-September 11, 2001 campaigns.
A former homeless man who goes by the name 'General Dogon' and has become a campaigner said, "It's a good thing they are counting them. The problem is that they get this info and do (nothing) about it. I don't see people getting off the street... all I see is more police."