Count zeroes in on Placer County homeless numbers

Federal, state funding based on homeless count
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A

Volunteers, Placer County employees and ex-homeless people are fanning out through the county to make a biennial federal Housing and Urban Development-mandated count of the homeless.

The survey provides HUD and other government agencies with a foundation of homeless numbers for future funding and grants. While the count was continuing through this week, the previous census in January 2011 found 631 people homeless in Placer County.

At the Adventists Community Services program for the homeless in North Auburn, homeless man Danny Meyer was one of about 30 people dropping by for the Tuesday food and clothes distribution.

As census taker Tawny Whitney asked him questions, he joked and talked about his homeless life over 13 years. The previous night was spent in a sleeping bag. His next night the same.

“It is what it is,” Meyer said.

By the end of the count, which Placer Consortium on Homelessness Board Chair Leslie Brewer said will focus on where the homeless slept on Jan. 23, the county will have solid numbers to provide to HUD for Continuum of Care funding.

The count is being coordinated with Nevada County’s in a mutual effort to assist each other in gaining information. The one-page questionnaire is being filled out by count-takers at places where the homeless gather to receive donations of food, Brewer said.

Scott Barton, a homeless man who arrived two weeks ago in Placer County from Arcata, said that his experience with veterans’ stand downs and other events that help the homeless showed that HUD funding can make a difference.

With temperatures plummeting in the winter, the homeless are in danger of dying while sleeping outdoors. In Humboldt County, homeless advocates were able to gain federal block-grant funding to build an inclement weather shelter, he said.

“People are freezing out there,” Barton said. “Auburn spent $4 million on a giant, outdoor barbecue pit (Central Square). They could’ve spent it more wisely.”

The homeless count two years ago indicated 278 of the 631 people found homeless were living unsheltered. Eighty-three were in emergency shelters and 142 were in transitional living situations.

The 2011 survey also found that 187 – or just less than one-third, were severely mentally ill. The count showed 218 were chronic substance abusers. Sixty-three were veterans.

On Tuesday, while two people stood outside the Seventh-day Adventist Church doors jotting down homeless count information and handing out $5 McDonald’s gift cards for those who completed them, about 20 volunteers were working to provide everything from fresh jeans and underwear, a shower and food to the 30 people who visited for help during the morning.

Kendall Porco, director of Adventists Community Services, said that while her group isn’t part of the grant process, she sees plenty of need for things like a shelter in Auburn.

“The Gathering Inn does a fabulous job but a lot of people don’t get on the bus to go down the hill (to the Inn’s homeless shelter at a revolving list of churches),” Porco said. “There are rules and some clients choose not to be drug- or alcohol-free. We need some accountability. But they also need to get out of this weather.”

Porco said that there has been talk for several years about a shelter or even a piece of property for an organized camp for the homeless. Over the past half year, Porco said that closures of state parole offices in El Dorado and Yuba counties have resulted in an increase of homeless people in the Auburn area.

For Auburn resident Adam Barrows, the number of homeless people roaming – and asking for money – in the Auburn area is just too much.

“I’m fed up,” Barrows said. “Auburn looks worse than Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.”

Barrows said he recently had family visit his recently purchased home in Auburn and his elderly mother counted 12 homeless people begging in the parking lot of a grocery store.

“Why does this small town have a big-city issue on a big-city scale?” Barrows asked. “I realize that there is no easy solution in a downturn but if it was spread out, it wouldn’t be so bad.”