Workers at the County Department of Health and Human Services are readying to embark on the 2018 Point In Time homeless survey. The yearly survey is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine levels of funding for county programs in the future.
DHHS Director Heather Snow said she’s often asked why the count occurs in January rather than in summer months when it would seem the numbers of homeless people are higher.
“They require that we do it within 10 days of the coldest day of the year,” she said. “That way, we’re capturing the most vulnerable people, those who have nowhere else to go and are truly in need of help.”
Local law enforcement, fire and other county officials are aware of the area in which homeless people typically camp around the city. Snow noted in past years, some residents have said they felt the count was less than accurate, since workers didn’t go into the hidden areas to conduct the surveys. She said some who were making the claims were asked to help in the subsequent survey and went through training to help with the count. However, for whatever reason, they were unable to contact many more people, she said.
“We did our best to engage the people who were saying that,” Snow said, noting the department is open to hearing ideas for contacting and documenting additional homeless persons camped in hard-to-find areas. She said she would like to capture numbers from any new camps that have been established in recent months.
Snow noted that last year, Sutter Coast Hospital donated 200 hygiene kits containing basic items such as toothpaste, toothbrushes,soap, shampoo and other toiletries, to be given out during the survey.
“We didn’t have to ask, they just did it,” she said.
Last year community members also donated camping, clothing and bedding items given out on the day of the count. However, they were only able to distribute those items during the one-day count, as they had no place to store additional items. Snow said the Methodist Church stepped up this year and offered to keep excess items so they can be distributed after the count.
The 2016 survey preliminary results showed about 139 people, mostly men, were homeless in the Crescent City area. Volunteers surveyed 139 people, 22 of whom said they’d served in the U.S. military. The number of homeless persons with a high school diploma or higher was placed at 66.
In 2017, volunteers surveyed 158 people. Of those, 116 reported that they had some type of disability.
DHHS staff would like as much information as possible, but surveys are entirely voluntary, Snow noted.
Snow said preliminary results from this years’ count will be available after the count, but the official account will take several months to come back to the department.
Jesse Ferguson, program manager for the county’s Public Assistance/Employment and Training Branch, estimated that 15 to 20 staff volunteers will be taking part in the survey this year. He said members of True North Organizational Network met with his staff recently, and offered several ideas for getting a more accurate count this year.
Ferguson noted in previous years, some staff members went into wooded areas and returned to report they were uncomfortable with what they were finding. He said the practice hasn’t produced a lot of results. Snow said she will not ask staff members to do anything that may place them in harm’s way.
Along with with other methods, one employed last year was the placement of signs around the city that directed homeless persons to go to the Veterans Memorial Building where the survey is taking place. Snow said it’s not realistic that all local homeless persons can make to the building and her department would be happy to train citizen volunteers who may be comfortable entering other areas such as ecampents.
Anyone interested in helping can call the department at 707-464-3191.
Reach Tony Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org