In Mission Beach, a makeshift shelter is spotted near the Green Flash sculpture.
Cold, dark, and early. On Thomas Avenue, the lights are glowing at Pacific Beach United Methodist Church and nearly 40 people, bundled up in sweatshirts, hats and scarves, are huddled around Imelda McClendon in the community room.
McClendon, the senior project analyst with the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, gives out last minute instructions and maps to the volunteers. It’s 3:30 a.m. and, everyone is a little bleary eyed, but eager to get moving.
“Make sure to mark on the map where you see a person, but do not approach them,” she says. “We’re looking for unsheltered homeless this morning.”
On Friday, Jan. 23, the Regional Task Force on the Homeless collaborated with local community groups throughout San Diego County to conduct the annual Point-in-Time Homeless Count, known as WeAllCount.
According to McClendon, the count enables the region to better understand the scope, impact and potential solutions to homelessness, and empowers the community to qualify for funding that is essential to addressing the issue.
At about 3:45 a.m., the volunteers pair up, take their maps, and head out to count the homeless. Marina Baroff, 60, who lives in La Jolla, and Courtney Hammett, 27, from Ocean Beach, receive the boardwalk route, which starts at Pacific Beach Drive, heads south to Belmont Park and then back north up the bay walk.
Baroff, who is a retired health care executive, and Hammett, who is a social worker, are concerned about the homelessness issue and volunteered to help try and make a difference.
“I was surprised to see so many homeless when I moved here from Chicago five years ago,” Hammett said. “It’s an issue I want to know more about and learn what can be done to help.”
In the first 15 minutes down the boardwalk, the duo identifies two homeless people on the beach and one riding a skateboard. In Mission Beach, a makeshift shelter is spotted near the Green Flash sculpture.
But on the walk north the pair does not see any homeless. “I’m surprised we didn’t see more, but maybe that’s a good thing,” Baroff said. “It’s pretty cold so hopefully they have found some shelter.”
In the coastal communities there are no permanent homeless shelters, but during the winter churches and other non-profit organizations open temporary shelters.
“We don’t have the numbers of homeless that they have downtown,” said McClendon, who has run the WeAllCount in PB for four years. “The homeless know where to find places and makeshift shelters to be able to sleep through the night. But we do the best we can to count them.”
At about 5 a.m. volunteers started arriving back at the church to give McClendon their maps and count totals. Over the weekend, the Regional Task Force on the Homeless also conducted interviews with unsheltered homeless to find out more information on their various situations. That data will be compiled into a report and used to help secure federal funding for more services and programs to assist the homeless.
According to the Regional Task Force on the Homeless’ 2014 San Diego Regional Homeless Profile Summary, at a single point in time in January 2014, about 8,500 men, women, and children were homeless in the County of San Diego. A little less than half of them (47 percent) slept in a place not meant for human habitation on that night.
The report estimated that 85 percent (1,698 out of 2,007) of persons in homeless families were in a SD Regional Homeless Shelter program during last year’s count, while only 37 percent (2,796 out of 6,472) of homeless adult individuals were sheltered on that night.
The 2014 report concluded that veterans made up 17 percent of all homeless adults (sheltered and unsheltered); and that approximately 26 percent of San Diego’s homeless adults suffer from some form of severe mental illness, while 19 percent are considered chronic substance abusers.
After volunteering for her first homeless count, Hammett said she could empathize with people who have fallen on hard times and have found themselves out in the cold.
“It also makes me appreciate how things have gone for me and how thankful I am of everything I have in my life,” she said.