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Volunteers Count Contra Costa's Homeless

About 120 volunteers took part in the biennial homeless count conducted by Contra Costa Health Services Wednesday morning, visiting encampments around the county in a two-hour push. With a Patch video.

It was cold enough to see your breath in the air when volunteers headed out just before dawn Wednesday morning to help count Contra Costa's homeless population. But it was even colder for 54-year-old Rory — who had slept the night unsheltered on the banks of Walnut Creek in Concord.

"I called the shelter, but they were full," he said, tucked into his sleeping bag amid a fort of cardboard boxes.

The 120 volunteers were bundled up in thick coats as they paired up two to a car, each with a map of an area to cover. They would drive around for two hours — stopping by bridges, tunnels, fields and back alleys to tally the number of homeless people sleeping outside and mark down their ages.

The biennial count organized by Contra Costa Health Services is a government requirement, according to Lavonna Martin, acting director of the homeless program. The figures are used to assess funding needs, said Martin, but also to determine the effectiveness of current homeless outreach programs and identify future needs. The count aims to cover the entire county and takes place in a single morning.

Volunteers fill out a brief tally chart for each person they encounter living "unsheltered," listing gender, age, the composition of family units and the type of encampment — including occupied vehicles as well as hand-built structures.

"There's an increased focus this year on transition-age youth," said Martin, explaining that the county has seen an increase in the number of 14-to-24-year-olds experiencing homelessness.

At a camp by Highway 4 in Concord, a middle-aged couple welcomed outreach workers into the "home" they have built under a bridge. See the accompanying video in the media box above. The woman, who gave her name as Teresa, said that she lost her job in retail and has been homeless since October. Thanks to her partner's disability income, the couple are not as hard up as most other homeless people, she said, and have been able to construct a relatively comfortable living space — complete with a "bedroom" inside a tent with a queen bed, a kitchen area with a stove, and a heater. She said that she doesn't fit the stereotype of what a homeless person looks and lives like, and that the government needs to see a distinction between those who are actively trying to get off the streets and those who "just want to sit around and do nothing."

The 2011 homeless count identified 1,490 "unsheltered" homeless people — down from 1,872 in 2009. Almost 70 percent were living in encampments. An additional 2,784 were classed as "sheltered" in emergency housing and other programs.

Jim January 31, 2013 at 05:27 AM
My good friend, Tony Dudum, was recently assaulted by a homeless man in front of his restaurant McCoveys. Tony is a warm and generous man and his family has done a lot for Walnut Creek. All I know is our downtown has become inundated with aggressive transients over the past 3-4 years. These are not down and out working people but rather intoxicated, pushy, drugged out lawbreakers that make people not want to come downtown. I'm frustrated with the lack of attention the City Council places on issues like this and public safety overall. Their inattention and cuts to the police department have led to the ever worsening environment downtown where an elderly man can be assaulted in broad daylight outside his own business. Wake up city leaders or resign and make way for someone who can do the job right!
Kelly January 31, 2013 at 07:55 PM
I agree with Jim. The city needs to start being proactive with the flock of homeless we are seeing downtown. If you want to count them, just hang out in front of Safeway or the creek by Trader Joe's where they all sleep and smoke all day.
Triple Canopy February 01, 2013 at 03:28 AM
Tony Dudum is an "elderly man"???? He's in his 30s. And Tony doesn't own McCovey's... it's the other side of the family that runs that joint. Your lack of accurate information is significant and makes your comments have little, if any, credibility. The homeless will not disappear in California due to the strong support of vagrants by liberals and socialist local governments like San Francisco.

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