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Hundreds Step Out To Count San Diego’s Homeless

Video by Katie Schoolov

Hundreds of volunteers fanned across San Diego County in 2013 to get an accurate count of the region’s homeless population. KPBS business and environment reporter Erik Anderson said it's easy to canvas urban regions, but volunteers are also scouring out of the way places, like the San Diego River.

Hundreds of volunteers fanned across San Diego County Friday to get an accurate count of the region’s homeless population.

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Volunteers Barbara Palan and Shannon Quigley-Raymond help out in San Diego's 2013 homeless census.

Barbara Palan and Shannon Quigley-Raymond are part of a small team of volunteers spending a wet Friday morning checking up on people who normally aren’t checked up on. They are scouring Missions Valley’s thin slivers of wilderness along the San Diego River looking for homeless people.

Quigley-Raymond, the program coordinator for the San Diego River Park Foundation, said millions of people pass over, through and by the riverbed, but very few actually see it.

“The homeless people that do live in the riverbed are kind of out of sight, out of mind to many of us," she said. "Being in the riverbed quite often with volunteers and during clean-up activities, we see this a little bit more often.”

The crew that assembled Friday morning was taking part in the countywide homeless census. And in order to find the homeless, or their camps, that means looking under bridges, overpasses and in the tangle of plants that choke off the flow of water through the valley.

“Like for example, right over there where that guy is, we’ll put a circle there and put one," one of the volunteers said to the crew. "For one person. With the structures, if we don’t know we just put the structure. I guess they have a formula, a formula that they use.”

Photo by Katie Schoolov

A color-coded map that shows the result of the most recent homeless census.

Dania Brett, a project manager at the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless, surveyed the color-coded map that shows the result of the most recent census. That survey put the region’s homeless population at about 9,800. About 6,400 homeless people were counted in the city of San Diego.

“As accurate as we try to be, this is not 100 percent," Brett said. "This is our best guess."

And that best guess is critical because federal officials require an accurate census in order to tap into federal funding to fight the problem.

“We really need to understand the issue as best as we can in order to find ways to solve it," Brett said. "Whatever everyone’s opinions are and I know there are multiple opinions out there about how to address the issue, the bottom line is understanding what’s really going on and the best way to do that is to set eyes on our homeless neighbors."

Today’s count is not the complete census. Volunteers are also conducting interviews with homeless people through next week. The task force hopes to have the census completed by March.

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