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1,700 volunteers hit the street to count, interview homeless

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1,700 volunteers hit the street to count, interview homeless

bundled in jackets and carrying clipboards and flashlights, a record number of volunteers took to the streets throughout san diego county early friday morning in an annual effort aimed at learning more about the area’s homeless.

“did we get these people?” asked bernie miles as he pointed to a cluster of sleeping bags against a wall near the san diego civic concourse on c street.

miles, his wife tina and chris baltazar are members of episcopal community services and were among 1,700 people countywide who volunteered for the annual point-in-time count organized by the san diego regional task force on the homeless.

“we’ll have an idea of what we’re dealing with in terms of numbers,” said miles, adding that volunteering is an alternative to “just driving by and seeing people and not caring.”

the experience was a reality check for some volunteers, particularly first-timers.

“it was an eye-opener to see people sleeping under the bridge,” said natasha howell of oceanside. she and two other women searched an area around capistrano park, east of interstate 5 near the p pendleton marine corps base. 

by 4 a.m., teams across the county were on the street to count people as they slept on sidewalks, in vehicles or other unsheltered areas. people in shelters are also counted last year, the county’s homeless population included about 3,700 in shelters and 5,000 outdoors the total was 8,692, slightly down from 8,742 in 2015.

this year’s numbers, which have yet to be tallied, will be submitted the first week of april to the u.s. department of housing and urban development. hud uses the data as part of a formula to determine funding for homeless programs nationwide. san diego county at times has had the third largest homeless population, yet has ranked 18th in money received from the federal government to aid the homeless.

dolores diaz, executive director of the regional task force on the homeless, said the number of volunteers at this year’s count was an indication o rowing awareness of the issue.

counters deployed from 52 sites across the county. annually, the count attracts volunteers from across the spectrum of the region’s political cl . emerging from downtown san diego’s golden hall on friday were, among others, san diego mayor kevin faulconer, county supervisors greg cox and kristin gaspar,  state sen. toni atkins, emblyman todd gloria, and rep. scott peters.

atkins said the people she interviewed included a 33-year-old woman who had been homeless since being fired from a restaurant job eight months ago and a 60-year-old man who looks for work every day.

“he told me he made $35 two days ago,” she said. “he said the problem he has is getting cleaned up to look presentable.”

one team counting near the oceanside civic center included oceanside councilman jerry kern, istant city attorney barbara hamilton and city treasurer rafe edward trickey jr.

though the overall homeless count was slightly down last year, it increased dramatically in downtown san diego and oceanside.

in 2015, more than 800 people were counted living on the streets downtown, a 26 percent increase from the previous year. one year later, the population had grown to just over 1,000.

last year’s count found 392 homeless in oceanside, more than double the previous year’s count of 158.

although it was early, finding people awake and willing to talk before sunup friday wasn't a problem for downtown san diego volunteers shannon ward and ey christianson, who both work for the the county’s 211 resource phone service.

“can i ask you some questions?” ward said to a man she spotted walking toward her on c street.

“yeah,” e a raspy reply from a man who identified himself as terry, 61.

“awesome,” ward said, beginning the interview. “where’d you sleep last night?”

“on the concrete,” he said.

terry, who received a $10 subway gift card in exchange for the 10-minute interview, turned out to be pretty chatty.

“i’m getting a job,” he said when asked if he was employed. “i put in an application yesterday. i’m a carpenter. i’m going to open up a club here. we got a house cafe where i’m from, with people working on computers and stuff. there was an open mic on monday. we saw a commercial banker yesterday. we’d like somebody to invest in us. i got a dj already and live the rest of the week.”

ward took the rambling response in stride and continued with the survey. she learned that terry had last worked in 2011 and in june was released from a psychiatric hospital.

meanwhile, christanson interviewed a 57-year old man who had been homeless for six years.

“i think it’s important that we have a better understanding of the exact situations of folks,” she said after the interview. “it gives an acknowled ent of the numbers, but also the stories behind the numbers.” 

 diaz said the task force hopes to interview 25 percent of unsheltered people by feb. 1.

the survey asks homeless people a range of questions about their health, addictions, disabilities, length of time they’ve been homeless and in san diego county and whether they served in the military.

diaz said most of the 38 questions in the survey e from hud. some questions, such as ones about whether they are on parole or probation, are unique to san diego county and were requested by partners of the task force, she said.

alana kalinowski and katie richarson, also from 211, interviewed people on another block.

“people who are homeless are often kind of erased and invisible and forgotten,” kalinowski said. “there’s a lot of misnomers about why people are homeless. the survey recognizes there’s a lot more to the story.”

up in oceanside, lisa, 47, on a ledge near a small coast highway bookstore with a blanket covering her legs. an open can of arizona ice tea, a cigarette lighter, and a grocery bag filled with stuff beside her.

“i’m homeless, and i live at the beach,” lisa said. “i always wanted to live at the beach.”

until recently she lived in a double-wide mobile home in hesperia, she said. but she lost her job, and now she has no place to go. the police roust her when she tries to sleep, she added, and they don’t let her smoke or drink.

“i do drink,” she said. “it’s pretty darn depressing out here.”

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