Volunteers needed for homeless census

January 21, 2009 12:23:54 PM PST
Volunteers will be canvassing neighborhoods and shelters in Santa Clara County next week to find out how many homeless people live in the area.

County officials are seeking 500 volunteers to conduct the 2009 Homeless Census and Survey. The homeless census, which is conducted every two years, will take place this upcoming Monday and Tuesday, with surveys coming in the week afterward, said Marjorie Matthews of the county's Office of Affordable Housing.

"The goal is to find out how many people are sleeping in inappropriate places," Matthews said.

Volunteers will be able to work one or both days of the survey and will work in teams canvassing neighborhoods and shelters from 6 a.m. until 10 a.m. Homeless people are hired to participate and will be paired with volunteers to canvas neighborhoods, ensuring accurate numbers, Matthews said.

The count is required by the federal government for the county to continue to receive money, and the survey is used by the county and individual cities to identify what causes homelessness and how it can be addressed.

"The information helps local government and local service providers design their programs so that we can try to help the homeless and their homelessness," Matthews said.

The county's goal is to concentrate less on emergency services and shelters and work toward permanent, assisted housing for the county's homeless, he said. The program "Destination: Home" was created to implement such policies suggested by county and city of San Jose leaders.

"Only when they have a place to stay that's permanent, safe and private can people with serious mental health or drug and alcohol problems seriously turn their lives around," Matthews said. "Without the permanent housing, none of (the emergency services) stick."

Recent surveys have shown slight declines in the number of homeless people living in the county, down from nearly 7,491 homeless people in 2005 to 7,202 in 2007. However, the county is looking to find out if the recent economic decline and housing crisis have impacted homelessness.

"We are hoping for another decrease, but we're not sure what this one will show given the economic crisis and the home foreclosures," Matthews said. "This is a good baseline to measure our success in the future."

Anyone interested in volunteering to assist with the survey is encouraged to call (877) 728-4545.