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January 21, 2005

Homeless count to help county grasp magnitude

Charles Clem doesn't have a home or a job. Neither does Kim Skaggs. They sleep in parks or alleys or, if they're able, at one of Modesto's two homeless shelters. There are more people like them on the streets.

Just how many people are homeless in Stanislaus County? Next week, a group of nonprofits and government services agencies will try to find out. They're planning to take the first countywide census of the homeless population.

The effort is due to a new requirement from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has required areas to get a better handle on their homeless populations before HUD will release funding to them.

The survey is being coordinated by the Stanislaus County Housing and Support Services Collaborative, an umbrella of 50 organizations aiming to help the homeless.

"It's a way to maximize the funding that's coming to the county," said Nancy Cook, executive director of the non-profit Community Housing and Shelter Services.

The HUD money could be used for several purposes, Cook said. They range from constructing affordable housing to providing matching funds to win grants from other government agencies.

It won't be an easy task, but volunteers plan to leave fliers in local shelters and hangouts, and they will depend on word-of-mouth to let people know about the effort.

"Counts have been done in the past, but only because that particular (city) has been interested" in its homeless population, Cook said.


About 75 volunteers are expected to fan out to all corners of the county on Jan. 28, pencils and questionnaires in hand.

They'll ask whatever people they find how long they've been homeless, what services they could use, and how they became homeless. In exchange for their time, the survey subjects will receive care packages with food, toiletries, and sheets with referral numbers for services.

Clem, who has been homeless for the better part of two decades, thought the census was a good idea.

"I'll speak my word," he said. "I don't think it will hurt to come out and get everyone's opinion."

Skaggs, also homeless, isn't so sure.

"I'll answer them. I'm not sure it will do any good," she said. She added Modesto needs more shelters so the homeless aren't forced to sleep in the parks, for which they are often cited by the police.

The collaborative still needs donations of toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo and fruit juice for its care packages. To donate, call collaborative President Michele Gonzales at 557-2025.

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