This year's count of Stanislaus County's homeless tallied 18 percent fewer people than last year's, but it's not clear if the numbers are down because there are fewer homeless. The lower numbers simply might reflect growing pains for the new organizers of the count.
The Stanislaus Community System of Care — whose members include local government and homeless service providers — reported that volunteers counted 1,356 homeless people in January, which is when the annual count is carried out. The 2017 count turned up 1,661 people.
The reduction comes as homelessness has reached a crisis in California.
County Deputy Executive Officer Ruben Imperial said organizers of the volunteer count will meet to review the count and how it was conducted and said it was too soon to answer questions.
"It's premature to comment," he said. "We've got some work to do."
But one official with a Turlock nonprofit that helps the homeless said there were not enough volunteers in her city for the count and said she has heard that also was true for Salida and Patterson. The three communities saw huge drops from 2017 to 2018.
"It's not an accurate number," United Samaritans Foundation Executive Director Bev Hatcher said about the count results that tallied 153 homeless people in Turlock. (There were 248 people counted in Turlock in 2017.)
But Hatcher said she expects next year's count to be better as organizers learn from this year's effort.
The Housing Authority of Stanislaus County had organized and led the count for many years but did not do so this year after a restructuring of the system of care, in which Modesto and the county took on bigger roles. A Modesto official declined to comment until the count results have been analyzed.
Turning Point Program Director Christina Kenney oversaw the count of the homeless who were not in shelters or transitional housing and said she believed the number of volunteers and locations surveyed were about the same as in previous years.
Communities across the nation conduct these counts as part of applying for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development homeless funding.
The 2018 Stanislaus County count did not show much change for Modesto, with volunteers counting 1,117 homeless people versus 1,221 in 2017. The big drops were in smaller surrounding communities, including:
▪ Ceres — 35 homeless people counted in 2017 versus 4 counted in 2018
▪ Oakdale — 52 in 2017 versus 19 in 2018
▪ Patterson — 60 in 2017 versus 28 in 2018
▪ Salida — 19 in 2017 versus 1 in 2018
Salida resident John D. Schmit said he volunteered for the 2016 and 2017 counts and tried to volunteer for 2018 but said organizers did not call him despite leaving his contact information with them.
He said he attended a training for volunteers a couple of weeks before the count and said organizers were not focused on making sure volunteers would turn out. "No one there was heading it up and trying to coordinate the count," he said. "It was a feeble attempt from my perspective."
The counts have been done for more than a decade in Stanislaus County and the results have varied, from 1,613 in 2005 and 1,800 in 2009 to 1,201 in 2013 and 1,661 last year.
The counts are snapshots and should not be considered definitive. The results can be affected by many factors, including weather, the number of volunteers, whether police take part and how well service providers know their homeless community.
But the counts increase awareness about homelessness, and they can provide a community with feedback on its progress in solving the problem if the counts are conducted in a consistent manner over time.
HUD spokesman Ed Cabrera said the critical issue is that the counts be completed as part of applying for certain HUD homeless funding. But he said the count results can affect other funding that governments and agencies receive.