In the last week of January, over the course of three consecutive nights, as many as 6,000 volunteers will fan out across Los Angeles County to take a census of the people who, by day, are so visible yet so ignored.

In teams of two to four, volunteers will walk the streets looking for homeless individuals as well as signs of encampments — a makeshift tent, a vehicle with something covering the windows, maybe an item of clothing. Volunteer counters don’t knock on windows or peer under tent flaps. They don’t talk to the people they find; they record only what they see. They are trained before they go out and are encouraged to stop if they feel unsafe. In some areas, an undercover law enforcement officer may be assigned to a team.

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