San Diego County’s Annual Homeless Count is Friday, Jan. 28, 2011
What does ‘homeless’ look like? In our daily travels, we may choose to see the overstocked and unwieldy shopping cart, the wearied man or woman grasping the Sharpie-scribbled cardboard sign or the tortured local who is battling mental illness. All are homeless and all need to be counted.
Starting at 4 a.m. next Friday morning, hundreds of volunteers will be canvassing San Diego County and physically counting the unsheltered homeless population in the region. Called the Point-in-Time Count, this huge undertaking is coordinated by San Diego’s Regional Task Force of the Homeless in conjunction with a federal mandate by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
“We are trying to create a national picture of homelessness,” said Jennifer Litwak, manager of Projects and Development at San Diego’s Regional Task Force of the Homeless. She is charged with the number gathering for the unsheltered homeless population as well as training volunteers throughout San Diego County in preparation of the annual event.
Homeless individuals already housed in shelters also participate in the Point-in-Time Count next Friday at their respective sponsoring agency. The federal mandate began in 2005, requiring counties to report the unsheltered and sheltered homeless population every odd year. Many counties, including San Diego, elect to participate every single year. The final tally is then reported in local and county grant applications submitted to HUD each year.
Nationally, homelessness is forecasted to increase by 10 percent this year, Litwak revealed. In San Diego County, more than 10,000 individuals and families experience homelessness annually.
With the count just days away, it is not too late to help. Litwak is still accepting volunteers and providing one-hour training up until the day before the event. The Point-in-Time Count is divided into regions, so volunteers can choose the area closest to their home or business. Volunteers are required to walk one-to-two miles unassisted, have access to a mobile phone, transportation and valid driver’s license. Teenagers ages 16 and older are encouraged to participate along with an adult and signed waiver. (See attached PowerPoint for scope of project). The actual count ends at 8 a.m., so it is possible to still head into work after participation.
So how do you frame a picture of homelessness when you stare at that unwieldy shopping cart along the shoulder of the road? Chances are the cart’s owner may be counted next Friday, but volunteers in teams of 2 to 3 will seek out more remote areas where homeless are known to congregate, like garages and parks. These unseen faces of homelessness need to be counted, too.
“The count is only as accurate as the people counting,” Litwak added.
Point-in-Time Count, San Diego County’s Annual Homeless Count, Friday, Jan. 28, 2011 from 4 to 8 a.m. For more information on how to volunteer in San Diego County, visit: www.rtfhsd.org
Copyright 2011 Colleen McNatt