Organizers of this month’s biennial homeless count expect to find more families and children on the streets compared with past years, thanks to the housing crisis that has devastated thousands of San Joaquin County residents since the 2006 census.
A handful of public and private agencies — led by Central Valley Low Income Housing Corp. in Stockton — will team up at month’s end to count homeless people in the county.
The count separately tallies both unsheltered homeless and those in temporary public housing.
In Tracy, Sutter Tracy Community Hospital’s nonprofit arm will host a free lunch on Jan. 29 at the Tracy Community Center to lure the city’s homeless to participate in the census. Volunteers will give away free food, ponchos, backpacks and maybe bag lunches in exchange for a quick interview.
It will be Tracy’s first homeless count in four years. Stockton-based Central Valley Housing — which helps homeless people in the county find permanent and temporary housing — two years ago got no support from the city and had to exclude Tracy from the census.
That changed when the city of Tracy, its fire department and its since-retired police Chief David Krauss expressed more of an interest in helping, according to Bill Mendelson, head of the public housing organization and the man locally in charge of the homeless count.
This year will mark the second time the count will be conducted by attracting the homeless to a few locations instead of recruiting hundreds of volunteers to risk their safety by going out and counting them one by one.
The count allows public and nonprofit agencies to report back to public housing authorities and Congress, part of a request for between $3 million and $4 million for welfare services to help the homeless, such as temporary shelter.
Volunteers during the most recent census found about 350 street-dwellers, roughly 900 homeless getting some kind of temporary assistance and about 1,200 living in shelters or transitional housing.
There was no official record of how many lived in Tracy, but local volunteers Donny and Annette Dominguez, who together lead a biweekly outreach for the homeless, say that at least 130 homeless people set up camp somewhere in the town of 82,000. Many camp out by the Union Pacific train tracks between Sixth and Fourth streets.
“It’s impossible to say, really,” Donny said before his Christmas Day outreach. “We’re out here all the time; we know so many by name, about 130. But we know for a fact that there are more than that.”
It’s easy to count the shelter-dwellers, Mendelson said. It’s the people on the street who are tough to round up or seek out. Some live in cars, some in rural fields or under bridges, some in campgrounds and some under whatever eave or dry spot they can find that night.
The counts are inherently conservative estimates — it’s near impossible to keep tabs on folks living outside an easily documented existence. There’s next to no record of many county residents, including illegal immigrants, some poor farmworkers and the homeless who are minimally or not at all dependent on public help.“
But based on what we get, we can extrapolate,” Mendelson said. “And if we saw a sudden increase, … we’d be able to talk to city and county leaders, to Congress, and point out that we’re having a problem that is growing.”
This year, Mendelson said he’s unsure of how much of an increase to expect, but he does anticipate the numbers to jump in large part because of the housing crisis that’s left many former homeowners without a place to stay.
He said it’s a problem for renters, too, because if their landlords have their properties foreclosed, tenants often are kicked out without warning.
For the past several years, the government has focused on the needs of the disabled homeless, especially veterans, Mendelson said. But for the past six to nine months, he’s seen many more families struggling to find shelter, and he expects many to join the ranks of the county homeless.
As more families lose their homes, he said the public would probably show more sympathy for the homeless.
“Because then we’re talking about kids without health care, without proper nutrition, without shelter, without clothing and other services,” he said. “It will probably change the way people look at this problem.”