Keeping Track Of San Diego's Homeless Population
What can be learned from a yearly count of the local homeless population? KPBS Reporters Joanne Faryon and Kyla Calvert share their stories from the Regional Task Force on the Homeless' Point In Time Count.
Joanne Faryon, KPBS reporter and producer of Envision San Diego
Kyla Calvert, KPBS reporter
This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, you're listening to These Days on KPBS. In the early morning hours last Friday, teams of volunteers prowled downtown door ways, residential neighborhoods, alleyways and parks around San Diego County looking for the homeless. It's an annual evenly that goes on all over the kitchen called the point in time count. We won't know the numbers from this year's count for a couple of weeks but last year, more than 85 homeless people were counted in one morning. And that's the highest count since the point in time count started five years ago. Two KPBS reporters were with volunteers Friday morning to find out about the count and the people being counted of it's part of their developing series about the homeless in San Diego. I'd welcome KPBS reporters Joanne Faryon, good morning, Joanne.
FARYON: Good morning Maureen.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Kyla Calvert. Hi, Kyla.
CALVERT: Hi, Maureen.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, we'd like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Did you take part in this year's homeless count? If you did, give us a call with your questions and comments. The number is 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-KPBS. I word, Joanne, if you could start off we giving us pore E more of a background of the purpose of the point in time homeless count.
FARYON: Well, there's really two main reasons of one of them, first of all, so we know who's out on the streets. We want to understand who is homeless, how are they living, where are they sleeping? The second reason is because, actually, the federal government requires this count, across the country as you said in your intro, this was happening. They require this county because they base their funding on the number that we come up with in our counting. Basic things like subsidized housing, those kinds of programs are based on these numbers of last year it was 15 million cs that we got from the federal government in programs for the homeless and subsidized housing 678 so this is why it's so important.
CALVERT: I saw a number, that, across the country, it's through the department of housing and development, and across the kitchen, it's 1.4 pillion dollars in grants that they distribute based on the numbers collected in cities across the kitchen, during this week in January.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So Kyla, you and Joanne went with some of the volunteers who are conducting this count. When you -- where kid you go, and how do they conduct the count? Do they go in the very early morning hours? Do they wake homeless people up?
CALVERT: No, no. We started actually with some students at point Loma Nazarene yesterday, which, a professor there, Pat Lesley, was telling us that that's sort of where the methodology for the count was developed. So that's a little San Diego connection there. But basically volunteers get maps of a census track, and the track is sort of scored on the map that they take out, and they do their best to cover that entire area between 4 and 8. And they don't want approach -- they won't wake anybody up, they don't approach people who are sleeping, they just count the people that they see, and they also count sort of vehicles that look like someone might be living there, or tents or other sort of man-made temporary structures that they see. And then they also, if they do come across people who are awake, they give them invitations to show up for an interview that'll be conducted by another volunteer this week.
FARYON: I found that kind of surprising. I'm not sure with you, Kyla. I think I pictured it differently, that there would be an exchange with people who were homeless. But they really were observers of it really was about walking the streets at night or early morning when it's dark, and just reporting what you saw. Which makes it Far more difficult, I think, than daylight hours and being able to approach people or talk to people. I think you really have to be trained to see certain things to know whether or not, oh, is there someone sleeping in that car? Is there somebody sleeping in that van. So it was far more -- I think it's probably more difficult for volunteers than I imagined. And also a lot more -- I guess scientific in terms of how they're mapping out the county. And also how they're making their determination.
CALVERT: Right, the students that we followed around fiduciary a little while, they came across a van that had curtains up X. They sort of distributed for I minute or two, talking about, had, is there just a van that something's left here? There's enough signs that indicate to us that it hadn't really occurred to me that there was that sort of uncertainty involved.
CAVANAUGH: I'm interested in the idea that this is four hours from, what is it? 4:00 to 8:00 AM, on a certain day. I'm wondering what are the reasons for picking those very early hours, Joanne?
FARYON: Well, first of all, because the people they're counting will be in one place, presumably, they'll if be sleeping, they're not walking the streets, you're not sort of running into the danger of counting them twice. That they're somewhere at that specific time.
CALVERT: And one of the volunteers -- another volunteer this we went out with, after we were at Point Loma, and a volunteer we were with in Ocean Beach was telling us that, pie 8:00 AM, the homeless people they're trying to count have moved on, they're trying to sort of get out of the way of the rest of us getting up and going about our sort of work day. Trying to be less visible. So it makes it harder to count them.
CAVANAUGH: Tell us about one of the volunteers that you met, Kyla.
CALVERT: Sure. This woman, her name is Christine Seamus, the director of the Organization for Justice and Social Compassion, and she came out and sort of was -- she was showing us around where she was counting in Ocean Beach, and she was telling us the story about how she at one time was an attorney, she lived in Los Angeles near Venice beach, and she was telling us about at the time, she would see all of these homeless people walk past her home every day to get to and from the area on the beach where they could legally sleep at night. So she was sort of struggling with this feeling of I'm worried for these people, and I'm afraid for them, and I feel compassion for them, but at the same time, I am afraid of them. And so she was just telling us this story about how she sort of made the jump from being an attorney to working with the homeless. And we have that clip now.
NEW SPEAKER: Give them a blanket. And I said a blanket? I said Salvation Army. And she said, no, Christine. Give them a blanket. And I said, Goodwill. And for the last time, obviously, she said, no, give them a blanket. So I went home, got a blanket out of my closet, drove a block and a half away from my home, saw a man walking kind of aimlessly down the street. Approached him with a blanket, my keys in a protective situation for myself, and I said to the man, excuse me, sir, would you like this blanket? He said nothing. Nothing. No response. So I actually went to hand it to him, and I think it was automatic response, he just accepted the blanket, I walked back the treat to my car, I'm half way across the street when I hear thank you, God bless you, sister.
CALVERT: And so then after that, she went home to tell her children, oh, I did this thing. I gave this homeless man a blanket, and her kids were just totally unimpressed with her, and they were sort of, like, yeah, mom, well, anyone can give someone a blanket. That's no big deal. And so she sort of started getting her kids and her kids' friends together to go down to the beach and hand out blankets, and she started an organization called -- in LA called children helping the homeless and the poor. Or something like that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So that one gesture really changed had he ever life, and the life of a lot of people on the streets. Whether, I'm speaking with Kyla Calvert and Joanne Faryon, two KPBS reporters who went along last Friday night on the annual Point in Time count here on San Diego. And we are inviting you to comment. 1-88-895-5727. Rodney is on the line from Mission Hills. Good morning, Rodney, welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Hey, good morning. I was just curious on the count. How do they capture those who are actually currently being housed by the city or the county?
CALVERT: The count that they did on Friday morning is added to, sort of, reports from places like the temporary winter homeless shelter, from transitional housing, and from programs like -- there's a program where people can get vouchers to stay in hotels, motels, apartments, because they are homeless. It's a government sponsored program, so they take the counts from those report it's -- or reports from those organizations from that same evening and add it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And some wants too; is that right?
FARYON: That's right. And also of course I think is it Rodney the caller? You kinda raise a good point because they don't want actually count even, necessarily. And we met someone who didn't get counted. In fact, a man who's homeless, his name is OB Tommy. And while we were out with Christine, sort of touring around OB, she was showing us the are she counted, we encountered OB Tommy, and she goes, oh, there's someplace we missed. So I'm sure volunteers am tell you that they can't get even, and they missed Tommy because of where he did spend the night, which wasn't in an obvious place that you would have seen in plain view. So this effort to count and to include people in these hotels and temporary shelters, of course they can't get everyone. And it turned out, Tommy did speak with us a lot bit about his situation, and we have a clip of him now, and he describe it's -- I start asking him about where he slept, and she describes his situation.
NEW SPEAKER: Where did I sleep last night? In OB.
FARYON: On the sidewalk or --
NEW SPEAKER: No, no. In the back of my friend's house. You know. That way I don't want get no tickets.
FARYON: So do you sleep in your car?
NEW SPEAKER: No, I don't have a car. I sleep in his backyard on the couch.
FARYON: In the yard on the couch?
NEW SPEAKER: Yeah.
FARYON: And how long have you been without a home?
NEW SPEAKER: Oh, wow. Probably a good five years.
FARYON: So I think OB Tommy raises another point that Kyla had addressed that by 8:00 in the morning, a lot of people don't want to appear to be homeless, especially if you're sleeping in a van or car or vehicle, they don't want to be ticketed, you know, they've gotta move their vehicle out of the way, we met another homeless man, his name is John, and in fact, he was also a volunteer. He not only is homeless but he went out with Christine to help count the homeless, because again, it's tough. These people don't want to be counted necessarily, they don't want to be seen or identified. And John has his own story, he sleeps in a van, which is actually a step up, he [[] and also his life, difficult as it is, imagine it's even made more difficult because he's lost his legs from the knees do you happen, so going from the street to now to the van, and he did help count -- he has a wheel chair, and he helped go out and identify people who are trying to not be seen.
CALVERT: Yeah, one of the things that Christine was telling us was that she -- as John was out with her group of volunteers, they were going down, sort of different alleys in Ocean Beach and he was saying things like oh, someone's normally here, but they're not here now. And so she was saying that even though area -- this was sort of Ocean Beach down by the pier at the end of Newport street, and she was saying, this was one of the census tracks where they were gonna get one of the highest counts in the county. She had counted about 85 individuals, vehicles, temporary structures, and she was saying that even though the count was that high, they didn't count everyone that's normally there.
FARYON: And just to give you some perspective the numbers, so this is one little section in OB, but last year, this count, the results were 8,574 counted sheltered and unsheltered. The numbers that are just growing every single year, when it goes back to even -- I'm looking at 2006, there was 6900, 2008, 7900, 2009 almost 9000. So up and up, consistently over the years.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Joanne Faryon and Kyla Calvert, two KPBS reporters, and we're taking your calls about the Point in Time count of the homeless which took place last Friday morning. The number here is 1-888-895-5727. Peter is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Peter, and welcome to These Days. Of.
NEW SPEAKER: Well, good morning, ladies, this is Peter Callstrom with the regional task force on the homeless.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes. Thank you for calling in.
NEW SPEAKER: And we were the group who helped coordinate and put this count together. So we're delighted that you're having this story. [CHECK AUDIO].
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is your perception on how this count went on Friday?
NEW SPEAKER: I think probably better than any count we have had in the past. And the challenge is trying to cover the county as comprehensively as possible, and that's very challenging when we have such a huge county and as also noted, trying to do this at that time of the morning adding to that complexity of it, because we have a short window of time, and a lot of your to cover, but we do the very best we can, and thanks to 550 volunteers who spanned out around the county, we were able to get, I think, a very good count this year.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When will we know the numbers be Peter?
NEW SPEAKER: We should have preliminary numbers at the end of the week, if not early next week. The results are coming in already, we have a lot to track because we did 600 census tracks that covered the county, and so we also had three categories of count, an individual, a vehicle, or strung structure, something that they hand built, so we do this across every single one of those tracks, and our coordinators are keying in this informations we speak, and we should have at least the street count portion soon, and the other part of it again is the sheltered count, where we work with all of the short providers around the downy together, what their count was at that tame point in time.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Peter, any anecdotal facts coming in about Friday's count, that you might want to share with us about the changes in the homeless population here in San Diego?
NEW SPEAKER: Well, you were speaking with Ocean Beach and Point Loma, and I think our numbers there are gonna be certainly higher than they have been in the mast, and part of that is just a result of the volunteer turn out, because last year, the numbers, I think in Ocean Beach in particular were around 50, but all the locals told us, no, it's way higher than that. So we believe the number last year may reflect 50, and this year it may be several hundred. But that doesn't mean it's been a 300 fold increase in that period of time, but rather just the challenge of being able to cover a lot of territory from this to point to that, being able to assess who really is homeless, when you're trying to figure out if that vehicle contains people and that's their home. So part of this is the meth doing challenge, but I think anyone who is observing folks who are homeless, day in and day out, that the numbers are increasing and have in the last several years, so it's a challenge on so many level, but I think the good news is that a lot is being done locally to address this very challenging issue because to get somebody from the streets into permanent supportive housing is the answer to homelessness, but we need affordable housing we need more employment, we need good healthcare. So to solve this problem, it can be done, but it takes the coordinated it efforts of so many different players in order to make this happen.
FARYON: Peter, it's Joanne here, I had a question, I know we talked on the phone a week ago about this and other stories I covered about homelessness. We're talking a lot now about the changing face of homelessness, that, I think, statistically we would see a lot of men in the 40s with maybe some alcohol or drug abuse issue, and now we're seeing more families. And women, and we see children. And I'm wondering if, from the count on Friday if any of your volunteers talked about that, if who they were identifying, maybe the face of homelessness is changing.
NEW SPEAKER: Question and point, because it is not just the stereotypical can person who's in their '40s issue '50s 60, and a single male who's struggling with mental illness or addiction. We certainly have amount of people on the street who have mental health problems or addiction issues. But there's a lot of other folks who are temporarily homeless, it may be a small family and seniors, and single females. We really covered the whole spectrum of individuals and family members who were -- are now on the streets. So the face of homelessness is very diverse. And it certainly selling reflected in San Diego County. I mean, our staffs will reflect that, I think, as well, because the other important part of this process is the follow-up surveys that wee now conducting throughout the course of this week, which are one-to-one interviews where we ask literally about a hundred different questions of people who are living on the street about their background, their status, their demographics, why they're there, what it will take for them to leave homelessness, and can what we can do to help. So it's a multi part process from that is important in order for us to help people get off the street. But to your point, the face of homelessness and very diverse. It's very troubling. Because anybody who finds themselves homeless, it's not as easy as just pull up your boot straps and get a job and get off the street. It takes a lot of work. Because how do you find a job when you don't have an address, or you've been unemployed for a long period of time, or you've got a number of other contributing factors to your current situation and to simply cease that and then become housed is incredibly difficult.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Peter, thank you, I want to thank you so much, we're coming up on a time issue here, Peter Callstrom is executive director of the regional task force on homelessness who conducted, basically, this volunteer count of the home little called the point in time count which was conducted last Friday morning. A 1234.
CALVERT: I was just gonna say that the reason that they rely on 550 volunteers to go out in the morning is that while, sort of the department of housing and urban development requires that these numbers get sent in, there is there's no funding to pay for the count.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Actually. Yes, yes.
CALVERT: So they -- have to find a way to do the count before you can get the money to support the programs you're counting for.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And just once again, because we had a caller who couldn't stay on the line, wanted to know once again, what are these numbers used for?
FARYON: They're sent to the federal government. It's the housing arm of the federal government to provide services various grants, various federal grants for the homeless, for housing, subsidized housing and so on. Including the program like Kyla mentioned, the county gives out hotel vouchers, right? So if you're a homeless person or a homeless family, we don't have a permanent homeless shelter, as we all know. We've been talking about that for a lock time. There's a hotel voucher program, you can get emergency assist apse, in that way, and all that money comes from, trickles down from the state to the counties from the federal government.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to get a last comment in. Steve is calling us from Kearny Mesa. Good morning, Steve, and welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Good morning, and thank you for taking my call. I've been homeless almost four years now for the second time. And it looks like it's pretty much gonna be permanent. I'm very well aware of section eight, I had it, fell off of it because I had to move and didn't have a deposit. I've given up on all types of government type programs, instead I've written a book on how to be homeless. It's available on Smashwords. I'm not promoting the book, but the -- because I'm not charging anything for it. The basic comment I wanted to make is that the -- to get an accurate count of the homeless, I think you'd have to take any number of empirical counts and multiply it by four.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Because there are more homeless people than are being counted?
NEW SPEAKER: Oh, God yes. People like me, I live in a car and nobody's counting me. And I think that you will find that most of the homeless, people like me, college educated, 50-year career, you know, with no substance abuse problems or mental health issues, are very good at hiding, and maintaining a low profile.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Steve, thank you, thank you so much. Thanks for calling in. I really appreciate it. And I want to use Steve's comment, Joanne, to talk about the -- the series of programs or projects that you -- you want to conduct about the way the homeless issue is treated in San Diego. You want to follow this story.
FARYON: Exactly. And I think Steve brings up a good point in terms of resources, he talks about section eight housing. So we -- first of all, we have 50000 people on a waiting list for section eight housing of that's the subsidized housing. 50000 people in this county, you wait about 5 - 7 years. And we also have a number of people like Steve who are considered chronically homes, so this county said, okay, we want to find out how do we fix this problem? This overwhelming problem? We all know about father Joe, and Father Joe -- and Father Joe, Saint Vincent DePaul village, they basically run an array of homeless sorts of services. They're now launching what's called Project 25. So Father Joe, the united way, the county, the federal housing people, they're all getting together and they're saying, okay, let's pick 25 people who are considered chronically homeless, let's give them a place to live. And once they we give them a place to live, then we'll offer them services. Maybe they have a mental illness, maybe it's a drug abuse issue, but get them in a house first, because other counties, other places that have done this have shown that, first of all, it's cheaper for the taxpayer, it's more effective, and it's quite frankly more compassionate. The county did a survey recently and they found out that, I think it was 15 people, Kyla, over 18 months? Used more than a million -- I think $1.5 million in healthcare services alone, going to the emergency room and other types of things, so it's obviously, it's expensive, and so they're trying to look at various ways to try to -- you know, how do we cope with this, how do we deal with it?
CALVERT: And they're looking for the 25 people who are using the most resources, so it also is a cost effective thing for the county.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And as that program continues, KPBS be and both of you will be following.
FARYON: Absolutely, we hope to meet some of these people and follow them along for the next year.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Joanne Faryon, Kyla Calvert, thank you so much for coming in and speaking with us.
FARYON: Thank you.
CALVERT: Thank you, Maureen.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And if you would like to comment, KPBS.org/These Days. Coming up, a move to bring patients to the table, when new drugs are being approved of that's as These Days continues here on KPBS.