Ever wondered how many bums live in Los Angeles County? (That is, if the number's changed since 2009, when the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority last released its biennial count. At that time, the total was about 48,000, with only one-third living under some type of roof. Making ours, just FYI, the largest homeless population in the nation. Even the San Francisco Chronicle is impressed.)

But what was going to be a noble, photo-oppy start off the blocks in the San Gabriel Valley and East L.A. tonight was somewhat rained upon this morning when law enforcement officers discovered the lifeless body of a male transient in the center of town.

The Clara Foltz Shortridge Criminal Courts Building, on whose patio the man was found…

… while officers shooed away other transients, won't be combed by volunteer counters until Thursday night. But as of right now: One down, 47,999 to go. Or, we hope, less than that this year, although all this jobless recession crap probably hasn't done the situation too much good.

City News Service details the grueling county alt-census:

Volunteers will count the homeless on streets and at hospitals, jails and foster care and mental health facilities, along with places not intended for people to live, such as cars, parks, sidewalks and abandoned buildings, according to Michael Arnold, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority.

And Encino Patch wants you to volunteer alongside the 4,000 other charitable souls needed to complete the project — including the likes of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and various goldenhearted City Councilmembers. (The Venice branch of Patch has also been known to get its hands dirty in matters of curbside-livin'.)

Not to worry if you don't really know about that kind of thing:

Before leaving on their rounds, volunteers will be trained to recognize people who are homeless or recognize cars and vans that are housing homeless people.

“You go out in groups, and are usually in a vehicle, so you're safe,” Martinez said. She also pointed out that people could volunteer with their friends and family, to make it a bonding experience.

How did we know Patch was into bonding? Of course, the San Fernando Valley hosts about one-fifth of the bums as downtown L.A., but we're glad they're feeling helpful. Here's the breakdown from last year:

Credit: Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority

Credit: Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority

Volunteers will rake through West L.A. and the South Bay on Wednesday night, the Antelope Valley on Thursday morning and a grand final sweep of the San Fernando Valley, Santa Clarita Valley, downtown L.A. and South L.A. on Thursday night.

“The count is just the first step in my eyes to getting to the real goal of moving people into permanent housing,'' Arnold told City News Service.

Stay tuned for the final 2011 count.

R.I.P. John Doe.

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