REGION — From Jan. 24 to Jan. 26 trained volunteers will cover every square inch of San Diego County’s 4,526 square miles to count and interview homeless in order to better understand and solve the problem of homelessness
“We can’t fix what we can’t measure,” Dolores Diaz, executive director of San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless, said. “Homelessness is really not acceptable.”
“It’s a very complex issue, but it is solvable.”
On Jan. 24, 800 volunteers, trained by the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless data collection center, will count homeless individuals in winter shelters, living on the street and in cars.
Teams of volunteers will set out in the early morning hours with maps of areas where10,000 homeless individuals bed down.
A point in time count of makeshift shelters of cardboard boxes, garbage cans and tarps are counted without disturbing individuals inside them, as well as a headcount of unsheltered individuals.
“We count those outside, in cars, in parks, places not fit for human habitation,” Diaz said.
Another 200 volunteers continue to work through Jan. 26 interviewing homeless individuals to help understand what brought about their lack of housing. Information on demographics, health and housing history is collected.
“The count itself is only a number,” Jessica Osmun, project coordinator of the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless, said. “You don’t know what that the population looks like or who the homeless individuals are.”
Information gathered is recorded by the task force and reported to state and federal agencies that award funds to groups working to solve homelessness.
The data is also used by nonprofits groups to fine-tune their programs based on needs, and apply for government funds and private donations.
San Diego County collects data every year, but some counties and cities only collect data every other year.
To ensure data is collected this year the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs 100 percent funded the count in San Diego.
Last year 15 percent of homeless individuals in San Diego were military veterans.
The federal goal is to end veteran homelessness by 2015.
Groups working to solve homelessness in North County include the Bread of Life Rescue Mission, Interfaith Community Services, Salvation Army, Community Resource Center, Operation Hope and Catholic Charities.
Part of the effort to solve the problem includes six winter shelters that are open from December through March and provide beds and services for 244 individuals.
Shelter is paired with services that build self-sufficiency. Individuals who stay at the shelters are required to work with a case manager and set goals to find a job and secure permanent housing.
“It is not counseling,” Esmeralda Ohlmaier, social services manager of the Community Resource Center, said. “It’s getting them work ready to find a job, secure housing, or find better employment.”
Each shelter is unique in its day-to-day operations and the specific population it serves.
The Bread of Life Rescue Mission on Apple Street in Oceanside shelters 18 women and 32 men in separate bunk bed quarters.
Residents range in age from 18 to 70 and are helped on a first come, first served basis.
“When one person is squared away as far as housing we bring another one in,” Pastor Steve Bassett, of Bread of Life Rescue Mission, said.
The routine at the shelter is fairly structured. Residents eat dinner at 4:30 p.m., settle in for the night by 7 p.m. and need to be out and doing something productive by 7 a.m.
A light breakfast, sack lunch and hot dinner is provided.
Bassett said one of the most important things the shelter provides residents is a safe place to stay.
The Bread of Life Rescue Mission shelter is open from Dec. 1 through March 31.
If residents have not found permanent housing by March 1, they create an exit plan with their case manager. Their next step may be to relocate to another shelter, stay at a campground, or seek temporary housing.
The Community Resource Center in Encinitas houses 14 women and children through the North County Coastal Interfaith Shelter Network.
It is a rotational shelter in which residents stay two weeks at a church, and then relocate to another church.
Each host church provides three daily meals and showers.
A set of inflatable mattresses and bedding moves with the residents.
“It’s the very basics,” Ohlmaier said. “Bedding and some kind of privacy. It’s a bridge to more permanent housing.”