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Volunteers trade gift cards for personal information in homeless survey

By Hayley Fox
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013, at 01:48PM
Hayley Fox/blogdowntown

Annabelle Rosborough interviews Edward Potts during the "vulnerability survey" conducted on Skid Row homeless this week.

Since Tuesday night, volunteers have been meeting at the Los Angeles Mission and fanning out across Skid Row to talk to homeless people about their living conditions and what brought them to this area of Downtown in the first place.

This "vulnerability survey," which helps to individualize people and better identify the issues that lead to chronic homelessness, precedes Thursday night's official Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count.

Molly Rysman is the Los Angeles Director for the Corporation for Supportive Housing and one of the volunteers who distributed the survey.

“I think one of the things that happens with homelessness is we just see this massive humanity that needs help and we don’t really take the time to get to know each person and understand their different needs and there’s people who are homeless for many different reasons with many different needs," Rysman said.

She added: "Last night I was out surveying, I talked to a guy who’s 77 years old who was in the ER 50 times in the last 3 months. I talked to another guy who was 22 years old who had been homeless for two days. I mean, very different situations in life.”

Volunteers pack their pockets with granola bars and $5 gift cards to McDonalds and Burger King as incentive for area residents to share personal information about themselves. This "vulnerability survey" that was distributed on Tuesday and Wednesday nights includes more than 40 questions that range from the general to the extremely intimate.

Homeless individuals were asked about their medical history, how long they've been homeless and how they identify sexually. They're asked about where they sleep, their relationship with family members and if they've ever been abused.

While many of these issues may seem highly intrusive, L.A. Mission volunteer Anthony Pryor said the information they ask for isn't much different than what many homeless have to provide to get medical or social services.

"They're not divulging anything they haven't already divulged," said Pryor. "We're just making sure with the information that we're getting we're pinpointing people in this specific area."

While Pryor used to live on Skid Row himself and now volunteers at the L.A. Mission, some volunteers spending a night on Skid Row was a fairly new experience. Annabelle Rosborough, 28, was enthusiastic about her work and said she loved getting to talk to all the people she surveyed.

Edward Potts was her first subject. He said he's been homeless for the last six years.

"I mean when I went to prison yeah ok, I had a place to stay. For real, when I was in prison I had a place to stay," said Potts. "Every time I come back out here it's just rougher and rougher so you know."

On Tuesday night volunteers conducted more than 250 surveys and organizers hoped to exceed that number on Wednesday. The official Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority count on Skid Row is scheduled to take place on Thursday.

The last time this homeless count was conducted was in 2011 and results showed there were 51,340 homeless people living in L.A. County on any given night.


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