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VA Seeks To Better Understand San Diego Veteran Homeless In Census

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

VA Seeks To Better Understand San Diego Veteran Homeless In Census
GUEST:Dolores Diaz, executive director, Regional Task Force on the HomelessAnthony Love, Director of Community Engagement, Veterans Health Administration Homeless Programs

Volunteers will fan out across this country -- County later this week for California's point in time task force. Joining me is Dolores Diaz regional director. Joining us also is Anthony Lavi's director of community and a bit with the Dolores remind us why this yearly count takes place. The federal government ask communities across the nation to count the unsheltered every two years and the sheltered annually. San Diego has decided as a continuum to do the count annually. We want to make sure our fingers on the pulse of this issue. What did you find out about San Diego's homeless population last year? We found out that our numbers increased although not many communities across the nation there numbers are decreasing. Hours went up 2.8%. We also learned that about 15% were veterans. Anthony, that brings me to you the Veterans Administration is now part of the San Diego homeless count. If you could break down what it is the VA is hoping to find out. Thank you. That's a good question. I think if you had to boil it down to what we're finding out what we'd like to find out is who the homeless veterans are but how many in terms of what is the magnitude of the problem that we actually have to help solve. When you talk about the magnitude of the problem you're talking about also learning perhaps, how long these particular veterans have been on the street? Absolutely. In doing a point in time count not only are you counting individuals that have a number you're getting demographic information you are getting on information on the length of time, how many are veterans, how many female veterans comedy veterans with children. It gives you a more crystallized view of who is on the street and what resources will be needed to help them exit homelessness as quickly as possible. California is funding and has funded new housing projects or veterans, they work very hard to find housing for vets. Is it difficult to keep homeless vets in housing? I wouldn't say difficult. As with anyone who said struggles thought you were going to meet some challenges, but we won't know what works in terms of the best practices not only to get veterans in the houses but to keep them there. That's to ensure that you have the support of service that are equal to the needs of that veteran. We've seen great success not only in California cop but across the country when veterans are put into housing and they have the correct supportive services around them to help them maintain that housing. Dolores, here in San Diego what we found our specific challenges to veterans who find themselves homeless? We hear an awful lot about PTSD, we've heard of lot about traumatic rain injury, addiction and so forth. Is that what we have in San Diego? That is correct. What we found in San Diego is that one of the challenges that we have now we are San Diego, we do have a vacancy rate that is very small. Our ability to house those veterans, we've got a lot of veterans that have been issued vouchers. Our federal government is serious about ending veteran homelessness. So we San Diego cop but we do have issues where we are having difficulty finding the actual housing that veterans can use. When I say that they are serious copy of receive significant resources funded by the VA. Actually the VA is unerring the point in time count. We have a federal strategic plan that says we wanted to end veteran homelessness by 2015 and now we're saying we need to ended as soon as possible. Chronic homeless we want to end by 2017 and ending youth homeless by 2020. I remember when the VA scaled back its goal by the beginning of the year. Is at the kind of thing that Dolores was talking about, the fact that there just isn't any housing in some areas of the country, notably here in San Diego to actually house the veterans. The affordable housing is a definite challenge for all Americans, in particularly those Americans, those veterans in particular who have no to little income. So it is a challenge. The December 31, 2015 was a goal date not an end date so the idea would be we want to set an ambitious goal because, by having that goal the sense of urgency in communities across the country was very intense in terms of identifying those veterans getting them off the street. In places like San Diego that still remains a challenge. We are diligently working with those communities trying to engage landlords to join us and to make available those vacant units they may have to also help us with those veterans who may have high barriers like bad credit scores or a criminal history. These are men and women who serve their country, they are looking for a second chance, they are turning their life around and the need that support and that help. There are landlords that are working with the community. It's an all hands on deck effort to get them to the table and to get them to rent to these veterans. Dolores? He is absolutely right. A lot of communities across the nation have reached the goal of ending veteran homelessness. Or at least gotten down to that functional zero is a term that we use. There are communities such a San Diego that have those challenges. We have -- we are doing everything we can is a community and encourage landlord participation because we can build housing cop but we also must use the private sector and that's what we're really trying to do here in engaging them. Dolores tell us how the point in time count is conducted? What to the volunteers do and where do they go? I'm really proud of this. We have broken the record this year on the amount of volunteers that we have registered to count the sheer. There's really 3 pounds to the count there's a numeration where we have volunteers go out and count we divide the county all 4000 mi.². We use the US census tracts and we send people out counting. The second part of that is we count the sheltered, those that are in beds the night of the count and we also survey the unsheltered. We survey, we are shooting to survey about 30% of those that are unsheltered In you mean by that interview? Exactly. Volunteers can counter not have any introduction or they can help us by interviewing and that's where we get the demographic information and the additional data that we need to report to the federal government but also to help us locally make decisions. Are you anticipating a change in the number of homeless in this year's count? I always hope that we do. I hope that we experience lasts -- less. There's been quite an intense effort this year to house veterans in particular, so we want to hopefully Cossey a decline in the number. I really don't like to estimate. I can tell you that my hope is that the number will go down. That was my hope last year and unfortunately, the number were not. I know that since we had that big El Niño storm a couple weeks ago, there were a lot of people who were going out into the canyons and the riverbeds trying to find out who was there and telling them you don't have to stay there you can go find shelter. Is that kind of interaction they just happen a couple weeks ago. As I cannot help you do this year's count? I think all kinds of outreach helps us. We do have an inclement weather plan in San Diego that has been adopted by the continuum. We've been keeping an eye, very closely, on the forecast and we're expecting good weather for the day of the count. My hope is that the weather will not impact the count at all. I'm wondering, there are some volunteers that do do interviews with people who are homeless. How are some volunteers affected by taking part in this count? I have to tell you that one of the most rewarding things that I experience in administering the count is that we have a little debrief, I think you for those that come out and volunteer. The last couple of years people get up and say how this has impacted and change their lives cop because we talk about homeless. People know it, they see folks on the street. When you get up close and personal and talk to the homeless person and you begin to find out information about them, the things they suffer with. You really find out there not a whole lot different than we are. They are just not housed. A lot of folks to suffer from mental illness and alcohol and substance abuse, the information that we collect during the point in time count is also a self-report. We have to keep in mind that it is only one of the tools that we have to measure this issue. It is one of the better tools. It does change people's lives when they get out and they get up closer to the issue and become more educated. You need more volunteers? We do. Even though we do have broken the record. We need volunteers for in numeration, for Vista, the community of Lakeside and we need some volunteers to count in the city Heights area deploying from grace church. If there are any listeners that would like to volunteer they can go on our website www. listeners that would like to volunteer they can go on our website www.RTHST.org click on volunteer now and they'll be able to sign-up for the count. We also need a few folks that we would need to train to survey, to survey the homeless in Balboa Park. The "We All Count" program is this Friday from 4 AM to 7 AM. It's really early in the morning. I've been speaking with Dolores Diaz executive director of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless . Thank you so much Thank you for having me.

Volunteers will fan out across San Diego County on Friday to count San Diego's homeless population. It's a point-in-time snapshot of how many people are living in shelters or on the streets.

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The "We All Count" homeless census is conducted every year by the San Diego Regional Continuum of Care Council even though it's only required every two years.

Dolores Diaz, executive director of the Regional Task Force On the Homeless, says they are doing an annual count because the Veterans Administration, which funds the point-in-time homeless count, is interested in "what the vet count really looks like."

Diaz said on Monday's KPBS Midday Edition that volunteers learn more than just statistics when connecting with homeless individuals.

"When you get up close and personal and talk to a homeless person, and you begin to find out information about them, the things they suffer with, you really find out they’re not a whole lot different than we are," Diaz said. "They’re just not housed.”

Anthony Love, director of community engagement at the Veterans Health Administration Homeless Programs, said the census is about more than just a head count.

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"Not only are you counting individuals to have a raw number, you’re also getting demographic information,” said Love. That includes how long people have been homeless, their gender and whether or not they have children.

“It really gives you a more crystallized view of who’s on the street and what resources will be needed to help them exit homelessness as quickly as possible.”

Veterans made up 15 percent of the 4,156 homeless San Diegans not in shelters in 2015, an additional 4,586 people were living in shelters.

Diaz said one of the main problems facing San Diego's homeless is the lack of housing options.

"Our vacancy rate is very small,” Diaz said. "We’re having difficulty finding actual housing that veterans can use."