It has been nearly three years since the last time San Joaquin County did an official count of homeless people in the county.
Melinda Ramirez participated in that count in 2019 and is now the co-chair on the San Joaquin County Continuum of Care’s planning committee for the 2022 Point-in-Time count. Ramirez said it’s clear that the circumstances for the homeless have changed. Now it’s time to collect definitive information on people who get by living in temporary housing or who live without shelter altogether.
“Anyone who works with the homeless can say there’s definitely a lot more. I don’t know the number. I’ve heard different numbers thrown around by different organizations,” Ramirez said. “This is a good specific, structured, methodological count that we can rely on.”
The Point-in-Time count is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The San Joaquin Continuum of Care is HUD’s avenue to get funding for services to agencies and individuals in the county.
“The reason this is so important is because this count will, for the next two years, determines how much funding we’re going to get from state, federal, all these different sources. This is what they go by,” Ramirez said.
“Besides that, everybody who does grant writing or just needs more information – public officials, city government, everybody – a lot of people use the data when they want to know what the demographics of the homeless are. How many of the homeless are elderly? How many are young? What ethnicity? How long have they been homeless? There’s a lot of really important data that a lot of people use for the next few years.”
The Point-in-Time count will take place over four days at the end of January, and between now and mid-January the Continuum of Care plans to recruit 500 volunteers across San Joaquin County, mostly to go out on those days, make contact with people and conduct the survey that will be the basis for the Continuum of Care’s 2022 report.
The 2019 report found 2,629 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people in the county, including 155 unsheltered people in Tracy. The report breaks down those numbers by age, gender and ethnicity, and to the extent that people are willing to self-report their circumstances, will spell out how many are chronically homeless, or have drug abuse or mental health issues.
Adam Cheshire, program administrator for homeless initiatives in San Joaquin County, said that much of the funding the county gets to help people find permanent housing or services is earmarked for particular demographics or circumstances.
“Understanding the needs of the homeless, whether sheltered or unsheltered, helps county governments, city governments, non-profit organizations, to focus the right resources on the right interventions for those individuals,” Cheshire said.
“If we talk to someone and determine they are a veteran, there is funding available specifically to help homeless veterans,” he said. “The case manager working with you at that shelter in Tracy or in Stockton or wherever you happen to be, can say, ‘Ah, I know what I can do for you because I’ve got a source of funding that is specific for your eligibility.”
The report will confirm the actual numbers of homeless people, sheltered and unsheltered, and where they stay. Cheshire said that until the survey is done, he would not try to estimate how many more people are homeless today compared to 2019.
“It’s why we do the count, to answer that question. We really don’t know what it’s going to look like until we do it,” he said. “You can say we think it has (increased). We see in a park in Tracy there are people living there where they weren’t before, but is that because they aren’t being moved along as much as they used to because of issues like the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in the case of Martin vs. Boise, or that the local authorities are not moving people along like they used to because of COVID?”
Cheshire added that understanding how people lose their homes is another important question that needs to be answered now that the economy and employment have been profoundly affected by the pandemic and its related restrictions on businesses.
“There are a lot of people that are struggling with issues of unemployment and instability in their housing that the state and federal government are really trying to mitigate through things like eviction moratoriums.
“The impacts of that we are going to feel for years to come. What’s the situation like on the ground out there right now? It’s hard to say, but it’s hard to imagine that COVID hasn’t had an impact on the numbers. That’s what we’re going to go out and count. We’re going to find out and report that fact.”
The Point-in-Time count is designed so that volunteers can perform the surveys and report results. While they won’t need specialized knowledge to do the job, the Continuum of Care will conduct a series of training sessions, and it will partner with local groups like Tracy Community Connections Center to set up a central hub for the effort.
Ramirez said that while dates haven’t been confirmed, the county plans to have six seminars between Jan. 1 and 14 – two daytime, two evening, two weekend – that volunteers can attend in person. Those seminars will also be recorded and posted on YouTube.
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