Tuesday, February 15, 2011
About 300 more people joined the homeless ranks in San Diego County over the last year. That number has grown for the last four years.
SAN DIEGO Every year since 2005, volunteers for the Regional Task Force on the Homeless have headed out in the predawn hours of a January morning to count people sleeping on the streets.
This year they found 8,802 sleeping outside or in emergency and transitional housing. The county’s lowest count was in 2007, when volunteers counted 6,326 people.
Task force Executive Director Peter Callstrom said this year’s count had an unusually high number of volunteers turning out. Their thorough coverage of each county census tract may account for some of the rise over the last year, he said, but overall the trend of increasing homelessness is clear.
“I think people see anecdotally, where they live, that there are more folks – new individuals and small families are apparent,” Callstrom said. “And the amount of work that’s on the service providers is certainly high and there are waiting lists.”
The tally is reported to the Department of Housing and Urban Development to secure federal grants for homeless programs. But the information is also an important local tool.
“Local communities can get a really good handle on the specific needs in their areas and then properly advocate for more services, more funding, more support,” Callstrom said. “If not with HUD all the time, it could be with City Council or the county.”
The task force expects city and neighborhood-specific numbers to be available by the end of March.
Since the one-night count in late January, more volunteers have been conducting interviews with some of the homeless. people counters made contact with. They hope to eventually interview up to 20 percent of the county’s homeless population.
The information they collected during those interviews will be used to paint a picture of who makes up the local homeless population. Callstrom said those interviewed are also referred to service providers who may be able to address their needs for things like mental health and medical care and substance-abuse treatment.