How many homeless people will the Santa Clara County survey find?

Geneva Strickland used to bounce from street to street in North San Jose for more than six years before finding a place to live. Early Wednesday morning, Strickland returned to her old stomping ground with a new purpose: to count the number of people who are still homeless.

“I want to give back,” Strickland told San Jose Spotlight as she recorded the details of a mobile home. “I can’t forget how tough it was there. I wouldn’t make it if I didn’t end up in housing.

Strickland and homeless lawyer Shaunn Cartwright were among 220 people who awoke before dawn to hit the streets in 30-degree weather, scouring under bridges, along creeks and outside businesses to count the sans -shelter living in San Jose. The two-day event continues Thursday in Santa Clara County cities such as Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Cupertino.

Shaunn Cartwright and Geneva Strickland spent the morning searching the streets of Alviso and North San Jose for people living in tents and RVs. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

The biennial count – known as the “point in time” homeless count – is essential for officials, nonprofits and advocates to understand the homelessness crisis and identify the needs of people. in the street. The tally is part of a federal requirement for Santa Clara County to receive funding. The county elected to postpone the 2021 count due to COVID-19 and postponed this year’s count by one month due to COVID concerns.

Santa Clara County, one of the state’s wealthiest counties, faced a toll in 2019 when it saw the number of people without homes on its streets jump 31% from the tally of 2017, from 7,394 people to 9,706. San Jose saw a 42% increase over the same period, according to the 2019 tally.

Lawyers and homeless people said the crisis has only gotten worse as the pandemic has upended the lives of thousands of people in Silicon Valley. While the county reported about 6,000 people have been removed from the streets since January 2019, residents are still falling into homelessness faster than the county can house them.

RVs, trucks and cars where people live line a street in North San Jose. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

A conservative count

With the latest data being three years old, the region does not have a clear picture of the scale of the homelessness crisis. Even with the count of 2022, some fear he will leave many people behind.

“All we’re counting today is a conservative number of people who are actually homeless,” Cartwright said. “There are at least two people in every motorhome, and I’ve seen up to 10 people sleeping in the same motorhome.”

Cartwright and Strickland spent hours driving through the streets – sometimes venturing on bike paths along creeks – of Alviso and parts of North San Jose to find the most vulnerable.

“You don’t want people to be able to see you and come and bother you,” Strickland said. “But you don’t want to be that far out in the desert either. It’s so difficult there, especially for women.

Strickland registered up to 80 vehicles and tents until his phone broke. They ended up counting around 100 RVs, trucks and makeshift structures lining the streets and hiding along the creeks.

Near downtown, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo joined the nonprofit PATH San Jose to conduct a count. Council member Matt Mahan and his office also covered two census tracts.

“I’m sure the census results won’t be shocking – San Jose residents can see everyday that the problem is getting worse,” Mahan said in a tweet. “No one should live on the streets in (San Jose), either for lack of options or by choice.”

The numbers will help inform local lawmakers on how best to deliver services, county officials said. Santa Clara County and San Jose have been racing to build more temporary and permanent housing through different initiatives to get people off the streets with billions of dollars in unprecedented state funding and a housing bond of $950 million approved by voters in 2016.

The waiting lists for these places are long, and many of them also come with restrictions and rules such as curfews and limited visiting hours that don’t make sense for some homeless residents. .

John Connery, who leads the census effort for Applied Survey Research, said this year’s count required more planning because the group opted to forego a deployment center and launch event. Many county and city officials were joined by nonprofits such as Downtown Street Team, Bill Wilson Center and PitStop Gilroy.

The group will also conduct follow-up surveys to better understand a person’s situation and what potential services might be needed. The result of the tally and investigations will be released this summer, Connery added.

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