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Volunteers, Elected Officials Help Count San Diego Homeless Population

Above: Interim Mayor Todd Gloria helps survey homeless people in downtown San Diego for the 2014 WeAllCount homeless census.

About 1,300 volunteers got up very early Friday morning to help out with San Diego County's annual homeless count.

Volunteers for WeAllCount, coordinated by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, worked from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. to count and survey homeless people. The count is held at the same time every year in an attempt to track changes in San Diego's homeless population.

Kris Michell, the president of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, said the count is important for bringing federal funding to San Diego and also to humanize the homeless population.

"The more we understand about the individuals that are on the streets, the greater likelihood it is that we will help them," she said.

Last year, volunteers counted about 8,900 homeless in the county, a decrease of about 8 percent from the year before. Jennifer Davies, a spokeswoman for the Downtown San Diego Partnership, said they won't know the results of the count for a few weeks.

A 2012 report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development found San Diego has the third-largest homeless population of any U.S. city behind only New York City and Los Angeles.

In addition to community volunteers, many elected officials joined the counting effort. Davies said politicians' involvement raises their awareness of the homeless problem.

"Elected leaders from every level of government go out there, talk to homeless people, learn their stories, learn ways that they can help them, and this is just a message that goes forward," she said. "When you realize that homelessness is not this nameless, faceless problem, and that it's real people with real problems that we have to solve, I think that's a game changer for a lot of elected officials, and then they carry that message forward."

Local leaders including Congressman Scott Peters, state Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins, County Supervisor Greg Cox, interim Mayor Todd Gloria and San Diego City Councilmembers Sherri Lightner and Scott Sherman volunteered.

City Councilman and mayoral candidate David Alvarez joined the effort, but City Councilman and mayoral candidate Kevin Faulconer had a scheduling conflict, Davies said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs in San Diego also joined the WeAllCount effort this year. Jessica Chamberlian, VA San Diego's chief of social work, said the count helps answer questions about homeless veterans' needs.

"Do we need more permanent housing, do we need more prevention, do we need more outreach?" she said. "Those are decisions that are definitely looked at and made using the data that comes from the count."

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