SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Every two years, thousands of volunteers and workers take to the streets of counties and localities across the nation to get a snapshot of the homeless population.
These counts are required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and help determine everything from Federal funding for shelters and other programming, as well as guide local governments on where to put their resources.
The counts are typically conducted over the course of one night in last 10 days of January. Some counties and localities choose to count annually, including Santa Clara County, which recently carried out its 2023 POINT-In-Time Count.
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Long before the break of dawn the count begins.
"I'm taking a look at a map this is the census track we're going to be going out to service first today," said Laura Sandoval, the regional director of PATH, using her phone to light the map in the back seat of a pickup truck.
PATH is one of the nonprofits helping Santa Clara County with the 2023 Point-In-Time Count. Housing and Urban Development requires these counts every couple of years.
"We're going out to see if we identify people who appear to be unhoused, any encampments, tents, makeshift shelters," said Sandoval, as she and two of her colleagues continued off the beaten path.
"There used to be a guy here but it looks like he moved," said Ryan Sharek, pointing the pickups headlights toward Coyote Creek. Sharek is a street outreach worker and knows the back roads into the encampments. "I'm going to have to turn around, but there's another two here as well."
The Point-in-Time Count is meant to be a snapshot of the homeless population, of both the sheltered and unsheltered. It helps determine federal funding and gives guidance to counties on where to put they're resources.
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"How many of our folks are able to access shelter and be able to get off the street and not have to sleep outside, or in a tent or in a park," said Sandoval.
The last snapshot, according tithe 2022 PIT report, showed more than 10,000 people were unhoused in Santa Clara County; a number that's been on the rise for the past several counts. The percentage of unhoused people able to find a shelter bed has gone up, as well.
Data also shows the biggest barrier to finding permanent housing is cost of rent, with 69 percent saying they can't afford it and 55 percent of the unhoused surveyed saying they don't have a job.
"Have a good day, man," shouts Sharek to a client he's spotted.
As dawn breaks, the team heads to an area hit hard by the recent record-breaking rainfall.
"The water is a little lower so you guys can actually follow me out here," he said, as the trio made its way down the creek embankments.
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Some of them went to the evacuation centers, which are now closed, but they found other places for them. Some of them got housing, which is good, but mostly they just dispersed in this area."
As the director of the nonprofit, Sandoval doesn't get out in the field too often- and is taken back by the sight and schemer amount of makeshift homes. "There's work to be done, you know," she said softly with a sigh.
The team keeps walking and counting.
"I'm tracking the people who have either confirmed or suspected," explained Kyle Pence, holding out his phone and pointing to the app.
For Pence it's personal, having himself experienced homelessness.
"I think I sort of understand what people might face. Just the perspective that I've lived through it before," said Pence, who's now a peer support specialist with PATH.
He quickly pointed out that while he may be counting, the people living in these tents are more than just a number.
"Everyone has a story as to why they're out here," he said.
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