Who are your homeless neighbors? Here's how you can find out
Every two years, hundreds of volunteers fan out in the city and county of Sacramento to count and interview people they find living outdoors.
The information they gather is vital to understanding who is homeless in Sacramento and how they came to be so. It is also important because it helps determine the amount of federal and state funding the city and county receive to address homelessness.
This year’s count will take place on Jan. 30 and Jan. 31, 2019. Sacramento Steps Forward, the non-profit agency that coordinates homeless resources in the region, is seeking to recruit a record number of volunteers this year to make sure the 2019 Homeless Point-in-Time (PIT) count is as accurate as possible.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and much of his staff will be participating in the main night of counting, on Jan. 30.
“It is crucial that we understand the scope of this crisis in our city and county as we work toward standing up additional shelters and providing intensive outreach and services to get thousands of people off the street,” said Mayor Steinberg.
Sacramento Steps Forward spokesman Ben Avey said people who sign up to participate in the count this year will be able to go out in teams with family, friends or co-workers. No experience is required, though you must be 18 years old to participate. Teams typically total four people. Each one will be assigned a leader who has experience with the count and the community being surveyed.
Volunteers are required to attend one of the 90-minute training sessions, typically held the week before the count. The actual count will last from about 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The teams will go out in an assigned area and count people who appear to be living outdoors or in cars. If the people are awake, the teams will interview them using questions developed by Sacramento State University’s Division of Social Work.
The most recent PIT count, conducted in January 2017, found that nightly homelessness in Sacramento County had jumped by 30 percent in Sacramento from 2015 — from 2,822 to 3,665 people — a number that included those living in shelters. The number of people living outdoors had jumped by a startling 85 percent, from 1,111 to 2,052. That increase was similar to those found in other cities on the West Coast.
Despite stepped-up efforts by the City and County to get homeless people into shelter and services, Avey said Sacramento Steps Forward expects the survey will find that the homeless population has continued to grow as people lose housing in a tight rental market.
“The housing market hasn’t gotten any better for the folks we serve,” he said. Avey said the idea that homeless people are coming to Sacramento from elsewhere is largely false. Surveys consistently find that 70 percent of homeless people are living in the community they came from, 15 percent are from the larger region and 15 percent are from somewhere else, he said.
“A lot of the misnomers around homelessness come down to us as individuals creating barriers between us and them,” Avey said. “They’re not from here, they want to be homeless, they’re drug addicts. Anything that makes it seem like they’re not our neighbors.”
Mayor Steinberg has been leading the City’s effort to address homelessness through the assertive outreach and services of the City’s new Pathways program, combined with access to a low-barrier Triage Shelter that accepts people with their partners, pets and possessions. Once enrolled, participants receive services to help them stabilize their lives before being placed in permanent shelter.
Read more about the City’s efforts here.