It’s before 4 a.m., but Dinna Morris and Cecilia Wind and 38 other volunteers have gathered at the LGBT Community Center in Hillcrest, ready to begin their early morning task: count homeless people.
Morris and Wind and about 1,200 other people—more than 700 of them County employees—walked the streets, beaches and valleys across the region for the annual count of homeless people in San Diego County.
The Point-in-Time Count is spearheaded by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless and provides a one-day snapshot of people living on the streets or in short-term shelters. The results are used to apply for federal and state funding to help homeless people and find solutions on how to best serve this vulnerable population.
At the Center, the group of volunteers was divided into teams and headed out to walk the streets and alleys of Hillcrest, Old Town, Mission Hills and University Heights.
For four hours, they walked and drove, waking homeless people up to ask them a few questions to better understand what led them to live on the streets.
That’s how they came to find people like Willow, 43, who eagerly agreed to answer the short list of questions.
“You’re the people they warned us about,” said Willow laughing and referring to the fact that homeless people were notified in advance that volunteers would be roaming the streets to conduct the homeless count.
Willow, who was sleeping on the sidewalk on Harvey Milk Street, said she became homeless five years ago after leaving an abusive relationship. She said she has some physical disabilities and some mental health disorders that prevent her from working or keeping a stable home. For her participation in the survey, Willow got a pair of socks and a $10 gift card to Starbucks.
Before Willow, the counters came across Tucker, 56, who was sleeping outside the Center. He’s been sleeping in the streets for the past 10 days and is the second time he’s been homeless in the past two years. Tucker also got a pair of socks and $10 for McDonald’s.
Not every homeless person agreed to be interviewed. Some did not even wake up. In those instances, the counters filled out an even shorter questionnaire, which noted where they were sleeping.
County employees have participated in the homeless count for the past six years after Supervisor Greg Cox brought the issue to the County Board of Supervisors, which agreed to allow employees to participate in the count and get their regular pay.
“I always wanted to do the count but did not have the time until this year,” said Morris, a deputy agricultural commissioner with the County’s Land Use and Environment Group.
“I like volunteering and believe this is important work,” said Morris, adding that she will do the count again next year.
This was also the first homeless count for Wind, a mental health clinician with the County’s Public Conservator.
“I work with people who are mentally ill and homeless, so I have a passion for helping people out,” Wind said.
Last year, the region’s combined total came to 8,576 homeless people, the fourth highest number in the nation. They included veterans, families, victims of domestic violence, substance users, HIV/AIDS patients and the chronically homeless.
The results of this year’s homeless count will be released by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless later this spring.
Did you participate in the homeless count this year? Tell us about your experience in the comments!