Drug use and mental illness. Family discord. Unemployment.
Within just a brief time and a short distance, service providers doing a homeless population count Thursday morning heard three significantly different accounts of what led people to have no place to call home.
A handful of workers with Telecare Corp., which offers rehabilitation services for people with mental illness, started their day early at Beard Brook Park. They first showed up about 5:30 a.m., only to find it too dark and foggy to begin the count of the homeless at a dozen or so campsites in the park sandwiched between South Morton Boulevard and Dry Creek.
“We have to be out here by about 6 because people get up and head out to places they can get breakfast,” said Erika Aguilera, a clinician and team leader for the Telecare outreach program.
Across Stanislaus County on Thursday, staff and volunteers with 55 to 60 agencies were conducting the Point in Time Count, the annual homeless census. The agencies are under the umbrella of the Stanislaus County Housing and Support Services Collaborative, whose aim is to find solutions to preventing and overcome homelessness.
Based on six training sessions held this week, an estimated 130 to 150 people were helping take the count, said Aaron Farnon, past president of the volunteer group Continuum of Care. In addition to parks, they engaged the homeless outside the Stanislaus County Library in downtown Modesto, at The Salvation Army lunch site, along lunch truck routes and in communities from Turlock to Patterson and Newman on the West Side, and to Hughson and Salida, which are new to the count this year.
Shortly after 7 Thursday morning, 23-year-old John Forbis, who was walking in Beard Brook Park, told Telecare staffers he slept Wednesday night at his grandmother’s house but doesn’t stay there often. He said he stays a couple of nights a week at Salvation Army and Modesto Gospel Mission shelters.
Drug abuse and mental illness tend to be really big, they tend to go hand in hand. A lot of people have a dual diagnosis.
Erika Aguilera, Telecare employee and Point in Time Count interviewer
The last time he had a home was in Ceres, Forbis told his interviewers. Asked what led to his homelessness, he answered mental illness and substance abuse. He said Telecare service is what he needs most, and when asked what services he’s familiar with, listed Stanislaus Recovery Center and Nirvana Drug and Alcohol Treatment Institute.
Counters carry questionnaires asking the homeless a list of questions including if they have physical or mental illness, physical injury, HIV or AIDS. They’re asked if they have drug or alcohol addictions, post-traumatic stress disorder or have experienced domestic violence. How long they’ve been homeless and where their last home was. If they’ve served in the military. The list goes on.
The answers help the agencies “identify what services are needed and develop more for them,” Aguilera said.
Just down the path from where Forbis was walking, Telecare interviewers got Julie Vasconcellos, 34, to unzip her tent opening and talk with them. The former Rio Vista resident, who has been homeless since April, came to Modesto because she had friends here, she said. She answered “no” to questions about physical or mental illness, substance abuse and domestic violence. She suffered a back injury in a car crash, she said, but it wasn’t a factor in her homelessness.
She’s where she is, she said, because she lived with her parents but they didn’t get along. “We argued a lot,” she said, but added that they still help her out financially sometimes.
The interviewers stuck closely to their questionnaires, not delving into details of their subjects’ lives. David Fuller, 58, volunteered that he has no mental or physical disabilities or diseases or addictions that led to his homelessness of more than a year. “Just losing my job,” he told Telecare interviewers. “People don’t realize, it’s paycheck to paycheck” for many working folks, he said.
Word gets put out at shelters, and there are outreach and engagement teams that let them know before the count. And agencies let people know as they come in for services. So most of the people are aware unless they don’t engage in any system of care.
Aaron Farnon, of Continuum of Care, on how news of the count is spread among the homeless
Fuller, who was a Modesto resident before becoming homeless, spoke further with The Bee. His career was in retail management, he said, and his last steady job was more than three years ago at a mailing house.
Becoming homeless has made it harder to stay in the job hunt, Fuller said. “There are a lot of things you guys take for granted, like fresh clothes and a place to store them.”
He’s still looking, though, he said. He gets mail delivered to The Salvation Army, and has an “Obama phone” so he can email prospective employers.
Finding a job would be hard even if he weren’t in the situation he is, Fuller said. “The employers have their 1,000 people to choose from,” he said. “And age is a factor, I realize that. They’re not going to get 20 years of service out of me – I’m near retirement age.”
On Wednesday night, the Point in Time Count was focused on those who stayed in shelters. Interviewers were careful to ask the homeless on Thursday if they’d slept outdoors, because they don’t want duplicate counts.
Homelessness will be the topic of a meeting Thursday night at Modesto Centre Plaza. Officials will talk about recommendations developed by countywide Focus on Prevention homeless action council, the members of which come from nonprofits, business, government and elsewhere, and have been meeting monthly since July.
Information from the day’s count won’t be near ready for any report at the meeting, interviewers said. Tallying and gathering information from questionnaires should begin Friday.
Last year’s count turned up 1,408 men, women and children living in shelters, cars, parks, on the streets and elsewhere. Similar homeless counts conducted in Stanislaus County since 2005 have tallied 1,156 to 1,800 homeless people.
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327
If you go
Who: Modesto Peace/Life Center
What: Vigil for the Homeless to “show that you care about people in our community and throughout the nation who are experiencing homelessness.” People may bring their own signs or hold ones that are provided.
When: Feb. 3, 4 to 5 p.m.
Where: Corner of Needham Street and McHenry Avenue