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Homelessness Count Gets Underway In San Diego County

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Speaker 1: 00:00 At 4:00 AM this morning, volunteers fanned out across the County to talk to and count those who do not have a home to call their own. Last year's point in time count identified 8,102 people who were living on the streets and in canyons intents in cars and RVs or in shelters, but the actual number of homeless people in the County is believed to be much higher. I spoke to San Diego city Councilman Chris ward, who is the chairman of the regional task force on the homeless. The group tasked with carrying out the count. We spoke ahead of today's count. Here's that interview first, remind us why this count is done every year.

Speaker 2: 00:37 So the annual point in time count is a critical measure of us to understand the demographics of those who are homeless in our community, both sheltered and unsheltered. We really try to reach as many people as possible to ask the critical questions. This allows us to understand the programs that we want to be able to, uh, amend for the future years planning and the informs the dollars that we are supposed to be getting from HUD, from Washington, D C

Speaker 1: 01:01 and how much federal funding, uh, is, is accounted for with this count.

Speaker 2: 01:05 Well, last year we were able to secure over $20 million and that number has been pretty constant for the last couple of years. Um, we want to make sure that we are showing a lot of progress at the program level and for a lot of the clients that we serve, that we are trying to, uh, help people and align people with their specific needs, um, with the service pipelines that work for them.

Speaker 1: 01:25 And although last year his count identified 8,000, 100, two homeless individuals, the actual number of homeless is believed to be much higher. Why is there that discrepancy?

Speaker 2: 01:35 Well, first of all, it's a point in time count. It's one day on one night in January. You don't necessarily catch everybody. So we have other measures through our coordinated entry system and our homeless management information system that may touch somebody who is in and out of homelessness. They could be housed, uh, or in a temporary situation this month, but maybe in March fall into homelessness. And we know that the number is probably North of about 20,000 individuals that are engaging homeless services throughout the course of the year in the County.

Speaker 1: 02:06 In last year you all incorporated drones to do the count and some of the hard to reach areas like canyons. This year's count, you all are relying even more on technology. Can you talk to me about that?

Speaker 2: 02:16 Sure. So the drones were in pilot form and we actually are expanding those to a number of other areas. They don't directly count individuals, but they tell us at 4:00 AM where we might be seeing a density of homeless individuals in the river beds or in canyons or other hard to reach areas. Then we send in highly trained, uh, social outreach workers to be able to engage them and conduct the count head by head. Um, we also are using for the first time mobile app technology. So this will hopefully make the survey taking a little bit more streamlined rather than having to use all the paper forms. And more importantly, this will allow us to synthesize that information and have a close to UpToDate information. Usually it took weeks to actually input all that. And now we're going to have something more close to real time.

Speaker 1: 03:01 And uh, are there any other differences between this year's count and previous years?

Speaker 2: 03:07 Well, we're very lucky we have more volunteers that have signed up and so that's going to allow us to deploy more people across all the census tracks in the region. Um, we're also making sure intentionally that we are looking for those who are, uh, residing in cars or RVs, uh, and using, um, further efforts to be able to reach those individuals to understand the true nature of their homelessness if they consider themselves homeless. And, uh, you know, dropping flyers on vehicles in the past, uh, has been only so effective. We really want to engage a lot of those individuals and see if we should be adding them to the account to get a more accurate number.

Speaker 1: 03:40 In addition to counting those who are homeless, the volunteers also ask some of those. They encounter a series of questions. What kind of questions do they ask?

Speaker 2: 03:48 So we ask basic demographics, certainly gender and whether their veteran status is what their racial background is. Um, what, how often they had been in and out of homelessness in the last couple of years. Uh, what their needs are for core services. And so we can understand are they looking for shelter or are they looking for food? Are they looking for a rental subsidy? Um, we asked the question whether or not they have a mental health issue issue that prevents them from, uh, being in stable housing. Whether or not they have a drug use issue that prevents them from being in stable housing. So it's a pretty wide battery of about 25 to 30 questions.

Speaker 1: 04:24 And so only some people are asked those questions though. Right?

Speaker 2: 04:27 Well, it's a healthy, a healthy amount. We're aiming to get between 25 and 50% of those that we count to also engage the survey. Um, when we go into the shelters themselves, we're able to, people are there and, and we're able to actually engage a lot more. So we are able to uh, understand that population for those who are sheltered. And then separately we have a youth count. You've have special challenges in our ability to count because more are hidden, more are undercounted. They could be just couch surfing at a friend's home. Um, and so we have a week long count that is designed to engage, um, those who are experiencing homelessness who are 24 and under at places they tend to frequent. So we can make sure that they're inaccurate part as well.

Speaker 1: 05:08 And you know, Reverend Shane Harris requested that as part of those questions, volunteers also ask whether or not the person has ever been in the foster system. Um, but that's not included in this year's questions. Why is that?

Speaker 2: 05:20 We're very excited about his requests and to partner with him and the people's Alliance for justice on this question. We think it is important and no one else has testing the question about the links, the direct links between the foster care system and those who are experiencing homelessness, BD youth or uh, adults who have transitioned out. We are going to be continuing to uh, ask that question at future opportunities. It was a little too late to really build it into the count itself this year at the time we engaged him. But there's a lot of other ways that we can integrate that questioning into uh, the, uh, the almost daily or monthly engagements that we do with those who are homeless.

Speaker 1: 05:56 And ultimately what

Speaker 2: 05:58 are you trying to determine from the questions and the information collected and how is that information used? The main count is just like I said, really important for us to establish a funding trends for HUD. Um, it's able for us at the program level to understand whether or not we want to shift some of our resource allocations to other programs where the need might be greater. If we see a spike, for example, in veteran's homelessness there, we may want to make sure that we're doubling down on our efforts to use veterans related resources or realign general population resources to meet a specific need.

Speaker 1: 06:31 I've been speaking with San Diego city Councilman Chris ward. Chris, thank you so very much. Thank you.

We All Count, the federally required point-in-time count of San Diego County's homeless population, will be conducted Thursday.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.