Oakland counts homeless population for biennial census, expects number to go up

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Hundreds of city employees and volunteers hit the streets at 5 a.m. Wednesday morning to count the homeless people, a requirement in order to receive federal funding for the issue.

Officials believe the number will go up from the last count taken two years ago.

Mayor Libby Schaaf helped cover West Oakland this morning.

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"I have seen so many unsheltered people this morning. A huge number of people living in their cars," the Mayor said.

She appeared shaken as she walked back into City Hall.

"It's emotional. The whole point of this count is also our way as a community to say our unsheltered residents count," she said.

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"When you get out there and actually driving up and down every street and looking everywhere you can and getting out of your car and looking under a freeway overpass and walking through our parks and looking off trail-you really see how real it is," said Joe Devries who coordinates the homeless outreach for the city.

"For example, I was in an area of Rockridge where people don't think there are homeless encampments. We certainly found plenty," Devries said.

The Mayor says the cost of housing is to blame, but that it isn't the only issue.

"We also as a county state and country are not addressing the mental health crisis and the drug addiction crisis. These public health crises have got to be addressed," the Mayor said.

Oakland has three locations of Tuff Sheds for homeless people. Officials are calling them community cabins. They currently provide shelter for 120 people.

RELATED: San Jose mayor and hundreds of volunteers take part in biennial homeless census in Santa Clara County

These people do count as homeless in this morning's assessment. Devries says this is just one of many efforts in place to address the homeless problem.

"The city is doing innovative things. We have community cabins. We are housing hundreds more people in emergency shelter. We have just opened a new transitional housing facility. We will open more," said Devries.

The city expects to have a total from this morning's count sometime this spring.

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