SAN JOSE, CA - FEBRUARY 23: Mayor Sam Liccardo, right, and Mackenzie Mossing take part in the 2022 Point in Time Count for Santa Clara County on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, in San Jose, Calif. The count of sheltered and unsheltered residents experiencing homelessness helps create a local strategy to address and end homelessness. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
For the first time since before the pandemic hit, the Bay Area is counting the number of residents sleeping outside this week gathering crucial data experts hope will help them better understand the regions homelessness crisis.
Setting out before dawn and late at night, groups of elected officials, city employees, outreach workers and volunteers on Wednesday began tallying every person they spotted living in a tent, a vehicle or on the street. The results will influence everything from how much federal funding each county receives for homeless housing and services to how local aid organizations structure their programs.
Experts say this years count is especially important as it will be the first one taken since January 2019. While anecdotal reports suggest homelessness has increased during the pandemic as large encampments have become more sprawling and entrenched, this isthe Bay Areas first chance to quantify COVIDs impact on homelessness.
View of a homeless encampment on East 12th Street Wirth downtown Oakland in the horizon in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
Its so important to understand a problem so you can solve a problem, said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, after helping to conduct a count in Oakland early Wednesday. In San Jose, Mayor Sam Liccardo joined the count.
While the so-called Point in Time Count is generally thought to be an undercount it can be easy for volunteers to miss people sleeping in out-of-the-way areas officials rely on it as a baseline to track increases and decreases in the regions number of unhoused people. The data from this weeks count is expected to come out this summer.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires counties to conduct a count every two years. Originally scheduled for January 2021, the Bay Area counts were pushed back until January 2022 amid fears of exposing participants to COVID. Last month, wary of the omicron-fueled case surge, county officials delayed once again.
Alameda County launched its count early Wednesday, while San Francisco was set to begin late Wednesday night. Contra Costa and San Mateo counties planned their counts for Thursday. And Santa Clara Countys started Wednesday and was scheduled to continue Thursday.
Each county still had to contend with COVID challenges and make adjustments to keep participants safe. San Francisco didnt accept volunteers this year, instead relying on city staff and outreach workers. Alameda and Santa Clara counties asked that people volunteer in pods and avoid working with strangers.
Mayor Sam Liccardo, takes part in the 2022 Point in Time Count for Santa Clara County on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, in San Jose, Calif. The annual count of sheltered and unsheltered residents experiencing homelessness helps create a local strategy to address and end homelessness. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
While counters in the past recorded their tallies with a pen, paper and clipboard, multiple Bay Area counties went digital this year. Participants used an app to record and submit data, eliminating the need for them to gather before and after their shifts to pick up or turn in paperwork.
The app seemed to be working well, said Chelsea Andrews, executive director of EveryOne Home, which leads the Alameda County count.
I havent received a 911 text yet, and Ive been on standby, she said Wednesday morning.
Wednesday was Anthony Smalls first time helping with Alameda Countys count. He went to bed at 7 p.m. the night before and set three alarms to make sure he was up in time for the 5 a.m. start.
As a case manager for Oaklands Community Homelessness Services department, Smalls is familiar with the local homeless community. He works with 30 encampments, making sure they have toilets and hand-washing stations and helping the residents get their other needs met. But on Wednesday morning, he counted several camps hed never seen before. Now hes eager to add them to his caseload.
I think it was a good experience, Smalls said, because you get to see the bigger picture.
Santa Clara County struggled to recruit counters this year and last month reported that fewer than half of the volunteers it needed had signed up. But by Wednesday there were enough people about 220 teams to cover the entire county.It did pick up quite a bit over the last few weeks, said Kathryn Kaminski, deputy director of the countys Office of Supportive Housing.
In addition to counting people on the street, Bay Area counties also will tally the number of people sleeping in homeless shelters. Theyll follow up with a more in-depth survey to gather data on the demographics of the regions homeless population. That questionnaire will reveal information about the racial and ethnic makeup of unhoused residents, whether they have any with addiction and mental illness, what factors led them to homelessness, where they used to live and more. That information can help dispel stereotypes about unhoused people while also helping local nonprofits better serve them.
Im really interested in getting the data, said John Gibson, who works with homeless veterans as an outreach specialist with Swords to Plowshares, to really make the necessary changes to address the problem.
A person walks towards a homeless encampment on East 12th Street in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
Mayor Sam Liccardo, left, takes part in the 2022 Point in Time Count for Santa Clara County on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, in San Jose, Calif. The annual count of sheltered and unsheltered residents experiencing homelessness helps create a local strategy to address and end homelessness. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
A person carries a box of trash to dump it next to a homeless encampment on East 12th Street in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
Oakland firefighters put out a small fire on a homeless encampment on East 12th Street in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
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