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Volunteers hit streets to count homeless

COAST CITIES — A group of 739 volunteers will soon hit San Diego County streets to collect data on the homeless. 

The purpose of the count is to document the problem and learn more about the causes of homelessness.

“We can’t fix what we can’t measure,” Dolores Diaz, executive director of San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless, said.

“Homelessness is really not acceptable.”

San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless is the data collection center that organizes the yearly homeless count.

This year’s count takes place between 5 and 8 a.m. Jan. 25 countywide to provide a snapshot of the problem.

“It covers every square inch of 4,200 square miles,” Cindy Williams, volunteer coordinator, said.

Head counts are taken in homeless shelters and volunteers are given maps of areas where more than 10,000 homeless individuals bed down outside of shelters.

“We count those outside, in cars, in parks, places not fit for human habitation,” Diaz said.

One group of volunteers counts individuals, temporary manmade structures and cars with people sleeping inside them.

“The shelters may be cardboard boxes, garbage cans collected together to shelter individuals from the elements, tarps,” Williams said. “We just count structures. We don’t want any individuals to be disturbed.”

Another group of volunteers is tasked with interviewing homeless individuals to help understand what brought about their lack of housing.

The task force tabulates the data and reports its findings to state and federal agencies that award funds to groups working to solve homelessness.

Fifty San Diego County nonprofit groups use the data to fine tune their programs, apply for government funds, and gain private donations. These groups include Interfaith Community Services, Community Resource Center, Women’s Resource Center, North County Solutions for Change and Community Housing Works.

Services for the homeless include temporary housing and individual case management on setting goals, finding a job and securing permanent housing.

“It’s a very complex issue, but it is solvable,” Diaz said. “Housing solves homelessness.”