Call goes out for annual homeless count volunteers

Call goes out for annual homeless count volunteers
At last year’s WeAllCount event, volunteers mark a map where homeless are spotted. Collected data helps to determine county program funding. File photo by Promise Yee

OCEANSIDE — Oceanside is readying to take an annual count of city homeless Jan. 27.

The yearly WeAllCount census is coordinated by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless.

It collects data that is used to determine county program funding. The count is mandatory to receive Housing and Urban Development funds.

It also gives cities and service providers a better look at the problem, and clearer understanding of the scope, impact and potential solutions to homelessness.

During the point in time count small groups of volunteers scour the city and record the number and locations of unsheltered homeless.

Each volunteer team receives a map of areas to cover and a flashlight to help them navigate in the early morning darkness. Groups drive to assigned locations and then scout and tally on foot.

They look for places homeless might shelter, like behind a wall or under an overpass.

Then they mark on the map where they spotted a homeless person. Symbols are used to indicate whether the person is in a tent, car or unsheltered.

Homeless individuals are not disturbed.

Police officers also count homeless in highly vegetated areas where homeless encampments may be located.

Police teams are led by Homeless Outreach Team officers who work as year round advocates to help city homeless connect with services and get back on their feet.

Two additional days are set aside to interview homeless individuals. The interviews take place at Brother Benno’s soup kitchen.

During the interviews homeless individuals are asked about their circumstances. Gathered data helps determine allocations of earmarked funds for homeless veterans and mentally ill.

Homeless individuals who agree to an interview receive new socks and a $10 Subway gift certificate.

Angie Hanifin, city housing program manager, said the goal is to know all city homeless by name, and move forward with efforts to get them housed.

The experience is eye opening for volunteers. Hanifin said volunteering to count or interview homeless individuals makes people more aware of the problem.

“You’re talking face to face about what happened to them, and how they got to where they are,” Hanifin said. “Some are hopeful, some are discouraged.”

Volunteers who helped with last year’s count said it provides useful information.

Last year the number of Oceanside unsheltered homeless more than doubled. In 2015, 158 unsheltered homeless were counted. In 2016 there were 392.

Hanifin said the jump may be due to a more accurate count than previous years.

“We have more police and code enforcement counting in areas that we could not send volunteers,” Hanifin said.

Oceanside has participated in the point in time count for four years. Countywide more than 1,000 volunteers participate.

For more information on volunteering for WeAllCount go to rtfhsd.org or call Angie Hanifin at (760) 435-3363.

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