Volunteers counting number of homeless living in San Diego

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Volunteers Friday conducted the annual census of homeless people living on San Diego County streets and shelters.

WeAllCount is the local name for the federally mandated effort to generate a one-day snapshot of people living on the streets or in short-term shelters in the region. The initiative helps the county secure federal funding for housing and other services.

More than 1,600 volunteers helped with the effort. Some volunteers were counters, tasked with walking the streets to count the homeless they see. Other volunteers were interviewers, guiding the homeless through 20-minute surveys.

On surveys, the homeless were asked questions regarding how long they've been living on the streets and any medical needs they have. In some cases, volunteers can better connect people with immediate resources based on their needs.

For the first time during a local count, volunteers asked the homeless whether or not they had their Hepatitis A vaccinations. Nurses were also on hand to provide shots to anyone interested.

One of the youngest volunteers, 9-year-old Mady, was with her mom at their downtown post by 4 a.m. Her mother works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and wanted to educate Mady on serious issues the city faces. Mady even helped conduct interviews, reading questions off the survey.

Robert Hill also works with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, he says helping veterans get out of homelessness is a cause close to his heart.

"You really have to get down on their level, you have to dig deep and you really have to want to share and want to listen, because they're saying a lot, you just have to listen," said Hill.

The San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless organized the effort and says follow-up interviews will be conducted through Jan. 31.

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Gordon Walker, task force chief executive, said there's a lot of pressure to execute the count each year because the data collected is so important.

"The federal government relies on the results from the county to determine how severe the problem is moving up or down in any single community," he said.

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Last year, 9,116 people were counted living on streets or in shelters, a 5 percent increase over the year before. More than 60 percent of those counted last year were unsheltered, according to task force data.

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