Santa Clara County Seeks Volunteers to Identify Homeless Population | News
After canceling the homeless count in 2021, Santa Clara County is looking for volunteers to help collect census data later this month.
The biennial count is essential for understanding the homelessness crisis and identifying the needs of people on the streets. The county elected to postpone the 2021 tally due to COVID-19. Lawyers said the lack of information left the region without a clear picture of the severity of the pandemic exacerbated the crisis.
“There is pressure to get it right this year,” said Shaunn Cartwright, an advocate for the homeless and founder of the Unhoused Response Group. “We have to count every person, every tent and every car.”
Cartwright has spent the pandemic helping camps that have grown in size and visibility across the county. She met new people and families on each visit.
The tally, which involves volunteers walking the streets, tents and underpasses to physically count homeless residents, is part of a federal requirement for Santa Clara County to receive funding. The numbers also help educate local lawmakers on how best to deliver services.
The county has scheduled this year’s count for January 19 and 20. Volunteers should be vaccinated and are encouraged to register as a group to prevent the spread of the new COVID variant.
Applied Survey Research, a consulting firm, will manage the census and produce a report to be released later this year.
The last “at some point” census took place in 2019, where the number of homeless residents jumped 31% from the 2017 tally, from 7,394 people to 9,706. San José has seen an increase by 42% over the same period.
Those who experience homelessness are skeptical of the tally.
“I don’t know how they’re going to get an accurate tally,” said Scott Largent, a homeless advocate who lives in an RV near the Spring Street and Hedding Street camp in the San Jose Spotlight. “People have been pushed in different directions because of the sweeps, and they are going deeper and deeper into areas where they cannot be found.”
Local lawmakers have rushed to find solutions to what San José Mayor Sam Liccardo has called “the city’s biggest failure.”
Cities are looking to provide more temporary housing through motel and hotel rooms and prefabricated modular homes, while advocates are pushing the county to open its fairground for homeless residents. In September, San Jose unveiled an ambitious goal of reducing homelessness by 20% by next year. Santa Clara County also has a plan to end homelessness by 2025, but those plans have met with skepticism from those who have waited years and seen little results.
While it’s not clear how many people have fallen into homelessness since 2019, Cartwright and Largent said the number would be exponentially higher.
“I think we’re going to see more seniors, families and homeless people for the first time in this tally,” Cartwright said.
Homeless deaths reached a new high in Santa Clara County last year, where 250 people were killed on the streets. More than 140 of those deaths were elderly, signaling a “silver tsunami,” Cartwright said.
John Connery, who leads the census effort for Applied Survey Research, said at a community meeting in December that the group was working with local schools to connect with families and students on the streets – groups that have been underestimated in the past. Connery did not respond to a census survey.