Dolores Diaz, Executive Director, San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless
Mathew Packard, San Diego Housing Commission
Erik Anderson, KPBS Reporter
Related Story: San Diego Homeless Count Work Continues
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The top story on Midday Edition the annual one-day count of the homeless in San Diego County took place on Friday. The early-morning searches in riverbeds and canyons is always difficult. This year made even more so by a rainstorm. So how hard is this count and how is it used? We will ask questions of my guests and find out about another big annual event involving the homeless in San Diego happening this week. I'd like to welcome Dolores Diaz, executive director of San Diego regional task force on the homeless. Dolores, welcome to the show
DOLORES DIAZ: My pleasure to be here.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Matthew Parker is here from San Diego housing commission. Matthew, hello.
MATHEW PACKARD: Good afternoon.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And KPBS reporter Erik Anderson. Hi Erik.
ERIK ANDERSON: Hi Maureen, always a pleasure.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Erik, you went out at the crack of dawn to count the homeless in San Diego and what did you see?
ERIK ANDERSON: It was on Friday we did the homeless count we should put out there that this is one of the best indicators of rain is the date a schedule the homeless count. In three of the last four years drizzly Friday mornings we got together with a small group of volunteers in Mission Valley and we went to a couple of different locations where people know that homeless people tend to congregate. There's a huge parking lot behind the Home Depot here in Mission Valley. We went near QUALCOMM Stadium where the freeways go over and there are shelters underneath the freeways and along the riverbed as well. So we had a chance to see an area that a lot of people I think drive by but never really take a look at and I think that fact is something that kind of makes it appealing for the homeless population because they can find some shelter from prying eyes and some of the areas along the area River.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What was the evidence that somebody was living there?
ERIK ANDERSON: It is pretty much what you would expect homepage lead to might be as simple as a box or cardboard later on in a particular area that shows that somebody has been living there. Could be as complicated as raised two story structure. There was somehow made engineering going on in some locations where people had built a structure and another on top of it, enough for two stories. There was a whole range, and even as simple as a tent set up along the riverbed or back out of view.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think it's fair to say Erik, you went out of this because it was part of the story but wondering the other people, the volunteers you work with did they say anything to you about why they were there?
ERIK ANDERSON: A lot of them are there because they work with the San Diego River Park foundation. That's one of the things that interested me because the San Diego River is not something you think much about.But it does run through Mission Valley and there's a foundation trying to restore the area. So these people are committed to working in the habitat and they spend time there. They do cleanups there already and they're trying to find ways to restore some of the natural parts of the habitat and also ways to develop parkland across the run of the San Diego River through Mission Bay and I think they already had a stake there. That's why those people over there on this chilly, rainy Friday morning to find the lesson that area.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Dolores, how many of these parties of people went out to look for homeless around the county?
DOLORES DIAZ: You know we started recruiting volunteers of October. Actually we were here at your station talking about this. We deployed, we have over 800 volunteers, close to nine that registered on our website to help us with the count. We had over 20 deployment centers regionwide. And you know, it just shows the commitment of the community to go out and count the homeless and the entire region. It was not easy to do. As Eric said there was very challenging in some areas, and we were gathering the information right now. We covered 605 census tracks regionwide. We have a lot of cooperation from law enforcement different foundations and organizations that stepped up to help us count them again it is just a snapshot of a point in time. We count the sheltered at the shelter that they.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I was wondering since it was raining and that lead people into shelters and make the count a little bit easier?
DOLORES DIAZ: Not necessarily, shelters are full. We do not have enough beds regionwide and it just goes to show that rain or shine, the homeless are out there suffering in the elements.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Erik, what is the latest census number of homeless in San Diego County?
ERIK ANDERSON: The last census I think identified around 96 9800 homeless people in San Diego County about two thirds in the city of San Diego, as I talk to people Friday during the course of reporting the story one thing you get a pretty clear understanding of is because it is a point in time snapshot if you happen to miss somebody is like there's a makeup date down the road. You just miss them and you don't get an accurate picture. There is a big effort that goes into getting as accurate an effort as possible but when you're with a small group of volunteers walking the San Diego River you can see how easy it is to be missed. With the rain I think the complicating factor there is that people who might otherwise be in a place where they might be counted because they are trying to get out of the elements they find places where they are not counted, maybe a single mother with a child is living in a car and they might not normally be in a car, but because it's raining you find a friend for the one night. And then you are missed out on the census.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Dolores, why does an accurate count, what does that mean for San Diego in terms of support programs for the homeless?
DOLORES DIAZ: The US Department of Housing and Urban Development asked communities across the country to count every two years. Our community has chosen to count annually and this helps to bring in federal funding. Last year it was a little over $15 million to help. The region keep the programs open that provide goods and services for the homeless. But more than anything again it is a snapshot. So we may come up with a number that is significantly less than it did last year because it was raining. But you know some communities established rain dates and say well if it rains we will count on another day. That is not what San Diego did. We chose to count rain or shine. Doesn't change the fact that the homeless are still out there. He was indeed challenging but like I said communities across the country, some do counts in weather that is dreadful, worse than what we experience.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Snow, ice, all of that. Now if you could remind us again why he thinks number is going to increase in federal funding is not going to increase if this is not by all accounts a specifically accurate count of homeless.
DOLORES DIAZ: I want to clarify that an increased number of homeless does not necessarily mean more funding to the region or even a decreased number of homeless does not mean less funding to the region. Funding is made available on a competitive basis. So the region competes with other communities across the country for the funding. But what is important to also note is that in the count we include a survey of the homeless, so we don't find out just how many, but we also try to find out about the homeless not just the demographics but some of the root causes of homelessness. In many cases it is the need for services for alcohol, drugs services, mental health primarily.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That brings me to Matthew Packard, I'd like to bring you into the conversation because part of the Project homeless connect that is going to happen on Wednesday in Golden Hall is learning more about the homeless here in the city of San Diego as well as providing services. If you could, Matthew, tell us what kinds of help does this provide to homeless people when they go to this event Golden Hall?
MATHEW PACKARD: Sure. If I can go back really quickly to the conversation about the population want to give some kudos to the regional task force on the homeless because this conversation brings up this point in time and how important it is and what might be a better indicator is a period count of homeless people in the community over the year or couple of years for purposes of planning and resource use, planning use of resources. The regional task force has done what is called an annual homeless assessment report and contributed those numbers to HUD. So that HUD could get a more in-depth picture of what the community is doing. So I think both of those pieces of the puzzle are really important.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When we bring you back to the Project homeless connect, I'm glad you shared that, but on Wednesday, homeless people are going to line outside cold call and there will be a number of services tell us about that and the kind of services available.
MATHEW PACKARD: The services range from anything from a haircut, Emile, to mental health counseling, to housing counseling, two chemical dependency counseling. To childcare, to a whole host of services it really is mirroring an event that occurs elsewhere in the country. Again, it is a one-day event. There are providers all over the community that are providing services to homeless individual stay in and day out. This is really an opportunity like that point in time count for the community to come together and do a special our reach to the homeless population to try to make them aware of what services are available and did gauge them into those services.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay so an individual homeless person online, woman or man online waiting to get into Golden Hall, could they all in one day maybe A medical exam, dental exam
MATHEW PACKARD: Dental screening, medical exam, absolutely.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Haircut, new clothes and basically walk out of there with having had all of these services of the space of one day.
MATHEW PACKARD: At least knowing how to access them, absolutely.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is there any effort to get people housing or jobs?
MATHEW PACKARD: Throughout the day as capacity just as Dolores was making the point we don't have enough capacity in the community for all the homeless people that find themselves on the street but as capacity exists, yes, placements are made that day.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How do people get to the event if they are not living right in the heart of downtown San Diego?
MATHEW PACKARD: Admittedly many of the people come from downtown San Diego. There are as many as 1000 homeless individual unsheltered homeless individuals just residing in downtown San Diego. Last year we had just about 900 clients come into the center.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is there any transportation provided?
MATHEW PACKARD: We don't provide transportation. We have outreach to the community in advance.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What about the volunteers out is one volunteer for the event?
MATHEW PACKARD: That's a great question you can go to the housing commission website SDHC.org and right in the middle of the page there is a volunteer button for Project homeless connect and you can click here and register to help. We need volunteers to escort people around Golden Hall on the day of the event. To serve food, to distribute clothing. We also need volunteers tomorrow to help us set up.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You don't have enough volunteers at this point is that right?
MATHEW PACKARD: No. We are doing pretty good and we are not where we were last year and we expect to see more clients than we did last year a year prior to last year we had about 600 clients show up. Last year was 900, so we could be in the 11, 1200 area. The more people coming to access services, the more volunteers we need.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you put up posters or anything downtown saying that this is going to happen?
MATHEW PACKARD: We distribute flyers and also put the word out amongst existing service providers, meal centers, the day centers and that kind of thing so people are aware.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are you nervous about this year's homeless Project homeless connect considering you're still it is Monday and you'd still like to sign up some very critically needed volunteers by Wednesday?
MATHEW PACKARD: A little bit nervous. We will always make it happen. The housing commission staff that can come down and volunteer, so we are confident we will be able to pull it off. We have an equal number of agency volunteers as well, volunteer organizations that are actually providing those services so we are very excited.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Dolores Diaz, you reference the fact that even though this a little bit more in depth about their lives and about how they became homeless and try to find out more about San Diego's homeless population is that right?
DOLORES DIAZ: Part of what we do during the point in time count and a few days after is, we survey survey a certain percentage of the people that we counted so that we can find out more about their needs, why they are homeless, what are some of the services that they need, what are some of the issues. And, built and that is what we call the vulnerability index. We know that homeless people are more vulnerable to premature death. Because of diseases and sickness that they might have. We try to gather this information so that we can no more and craft the services in our system.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You do the same thing, Matthew, and to you in a sense with the Project homeless connect?
MATHEW PACKARD: Yes we do in fact this year we've written some software we can do all of that electronically now, enroll people, go through a survey questionnaire and we will upload that information into the homeless database that the regional task force on the homeless uses.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You want to tell us one more time how somebody can volunteer?
MATHEW PACKARD: Absolutely they want to go to the website for the San Diego housing commission which is SDHC.org and right in the middle of the page there will be a button to click on for volunteering Project homeless connect
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you for coming in today, my guest Doris Diaz, Matthew Packer to the San Diego housing commission and KPBS reporter Eric Anderson, thank you all very much.
DOLORES DIAZ/MATHEW PACKARD: My pleasure.
ERIK ANDERSON: Thank you.