Is Alameda County’s unhoused population growing?
on March 29, 2022
By summer, Alameda County hopes to have an estimate of the number of residents who are sheltering on streets, in parks and encampments, under highways, and in cars, vans, and recreational vehicles.
The counting started on a cold Wednesday last month when volunteers embarked on EveryoneCounts! 2022, a point-in-time tally of homeless residents in the county. The count is followed by a two-week survey, where guides interview homeless residents to get a deeper understanding of the services they need. The results are used to shape policy and determine where to focus outreach and resources.
The count was postponed twice because of COVID-19 before being rescheduled for Feb. 23, which turned out to be one of the coldest days of the winter, with near-freezing temperatures. Many guides and volunteers feared the weather would skew the results.
“I only counted 10 people,” said Gordon Douglas, an Oakland resident, and volunteer who was out at 5 a.m. and remained there for three hours. “The biggest issue was that it was really cold and I imagine that anyone who could find a warm shelter would, but that isn’t always the case.”
The count is conducted every two years to create data about the county’s most vulnerable residents. Volunteers donned multiple layers and held tight to the hot coffee that was being served at the pit stop in Grove Shafter Park.
“We have a crisis here and it’s not just a linear crisis,” said Chelsea Andrews, executive director of EveryOneHome, a nonprofit that addresses homelessness in Alameda County. “It’s not just one solution that will solve the problem.”
Andrews said new resources were used this year to get more information and a better estimate.
Unlike in previous years, this count used an app that automatically entered the location each time a volunteer submitted a new entry. Volunteers were asked to note people’s ages and genders but not their racial identities, which had been collected in previous years. That data, however, is being gathered through the survey.
“Hopefully this signals to those experiencing homelessness that we see you and are making sure that you count,” Andrews said.
Volunteers set out in teams of about five to assigned census tracts throughout the county. Because of COVID-19 restrictions and safety protocols, they were forced to conduct most of the count from cars.
Mayor Libby Schaaf visited Grove Shafter Park and many other stops during the count.
“It helps us understand the state of homelessness,” Schaaf said. “It helps us dispel the myths.”
During the pandemic, Oakland stopped closing encampments that have cropped up throughout the city. However, the city has since resumed the closures, with at least eight planned for this month alone. Some of the count volunteers thought the closures could also affect the results.
The findings from the count and survey will be released in the summer, followed by a full countywide report in the fall.
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