This year’s point-in-time homeless count is expected to be the most accurate yet, thanks to volunteers that helped track and interview the unsheltered homeless living in San Joaquin County.

With the last count — held in Stockton on Wednesday — concluded, the data for San Joaquin County will be assessed by the San Joaquin County Continuum of Care. The numbers of unsheltered homeless are expected to be the highest that have been recorded due to the thorough process that was put in place this year

“This time around we organized with community volunteers and sent out teams to areas that had been known to occupy unsheltered homeless people and tracked their information with surveys,” said Adam Cheshire, the county program administrator for homeless initiatives.

In the past the count was conducted by designating a site for unsheltered individuals to go in order to be counted, which officials believe led to lower numbers. However, by amassing community volunteers and having them go out to known encampments and survey the unsheltered population the count is expected to be the most accurate and highest yet.

The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office provided maps of homeless encampments that were disseminated to volunteers who helped with the count, according to Jon Mendelson, executive director at Ready to Work. Mendelson has been instrumental in directing the point-in-time counts, including the count in Lodi which took place on Jan. 23.

The maps used for the counts included encampments that were reported by local organizations and police departments. Lodi homeless liaison Officer Richard Dunfee had been tracking encampments at the close of 2018 and sent information to the sheriff’s office.

John Ledbetter, who serves on Lodi’s Committee on Homelessness, also assisted in this year’s count.

“There were about seven teams made up of four people. Each team was given a map of our designated encampment,” said Ledbetter, who added that all the volunteers were given surveys to fill out for each unsheltered homeless person that they were able to interview.

“I interviewed a few people, and the people I interviewed were all connected to Lodi. They either grew up here or had family and had moved back,” Ledbetter said.

Each survey was comprised of questions aimed at gathering a person's location, name, date of birth, gender and military service history.

By having a more accurate count, the county is hoping that funding for homeless programs will increase.

Even with more funding, the problem won’t be an easy fix, stated Mendelson, who believes that a lack of affordable housing has been a major factor in the rise of homelessness.

Lodi recently received $1.2 million in Homeless Emergency Aid Program funding known as HEAP, and Mendelson believes it will help alleviate homelessness by freeing shelter space. However, he’s concerned that the grant is a one-time use grant that doesn’t offer long-term solutions to the issue.

“We need ongoing funding to address homelessness and make a difference,” Mendelson said.

Mendelson speculates that having an active community of volunteers can lessen the burden of homelessness in the region.

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