About 250 volunteers fanned out across San Mateo County early yesterday morning to count the homeless, a federal requirement that helps secure funding for critical services.
The data is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is used locally to design homeless services provided by the county's Human Services Agency and local nonprofits.
A team of formerly homeless volunteers were linked up with police, housing advocates and county officials to take the census yesterday morning in practically every corner of the county, from the coast to East Palo Alto, Daly City and downtown San Mateo.
Board of Supervisors President Don Horsley and his Chief of Staff Chris Hunter teamed up with a formerly homeless volunteer and Sheriff's Deputy Scott Berberian at 6 a.m. yesterday to take a census of the homeless in San Carlos and Belmont.
They found many encampments, mostly under Highway 101 overpasses, that were recently inhabited but abandoned yesterday due likely to rain in recent days.
The formerly homeless volunteer, who desired not to be identified, shared his life story with Horsley and Hunter as they trudged through the mud looking for people who might still be sleeping at the early hour.
The Navy veteran now lives in the Maple Street Shelter in Redwood City after living on the streets in south county.
He disclosed he was essentially a loner while homeless, finding shelter in office parks or behind churches.
Berberian, with the Sheriff's Office, has patrolled San Carlos for about a year now and knew some locations, mostly along creeks, where the homeless were known to sleep at night.
Together, the two men led Horsley and Hunter to several locations, behind fast-food restaurants and offices along El Camino Real for the census.
In an encounter with a homeless woman on the street in San Carlos, it became clear to Horsley quickly that her needs were beyond just finding shelter.
She told the former sheriff that she is being investigated by the FBI and cannot receive services unless she declares herself "mentally incompetent,” which she refuses to do.
People with mental illness, Horsley said, are often the most underserved and the least likely to know they even qualify for any services.
Part of the reason to do the census, Horsley said, is to try to get the homeless to take advantage of services.
Many homeless who do not seek services end up in the county hospital or jail, which can be more costly for taxpayers.
Another homeless man Horsley encountered said he is currently "couch surfing” and had a bad experience previously at a shelter.
Horsley and his team found seven homeless people yesterday morning in Belmont and San Carlos. They were mostly white and middle-aged, a contrast to other areas in the county that have a more diverse homeless population.
Yesterday's street count will be part of a report forwarded to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that will also include a facility survey, including jails, medical facilities and shelters.
"It will also include the survey in which we take a geographically representative, statistically-valid sample of at least 200 homeless individuals who live in RVs or encampments to learn more about their household characteristics,” HSA spokeswoman Amanda Kim wrote the Daily Journal in an email.
Preliminary numbers were not available for yesterday's street count and the final report will come out in May.
In 2011, volunteers identified 2,149 homeless people living in San Mateo County. That number was up from 1,796 in 2009 and the greatest increase — 83 percent — was among people living in cars, recreational vehicles and encampments.
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