The biennial homeless census took place in San Benito County on Jan. 31.
Twenty-four local volunteers took part in the count conducted by American Community Survey. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses the census when funding communities for homeless services according to need. HUD’s definition of homelessness covers people who sleep in places that don’t usually house people, such as vehicles, parks, transit stations, alleyways or elsewhere.
“It’s an opportunity for local residents and homeless individuals to be able to give back”, said Enrique Arreola, deputy director of San Benito County Community Services and Workforce Development (CSWD). “It gives our homeless members a sense of purpose knowing they can make a difference during the homeless census. And every number counts and helps San Benito County with future funding to continue to provide services to our homeless community.”
The count was done throughout San Benito County, though most of the homeless population is found within Hollister. Teams consisting of a driver, a tally taker and a shelter guide took on the 11 census tracts to complete their work. Shelter guides are individuals who stay at the shelter and have knowledge of where other homeless individuals bed down for the night. The teams set out from the local homeless shelter, known as the HOME Resource Center, around 6:40 a.m.
Several employees of the shelter and San Benito County Health and Human Services volunteered to assist with the count. Councilwoman Carol Lenoir and Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez also volunteered.
“It is important for everyone to understand the issues that are happening out there so we can start to address them,” Velazquez said on the importance of the homeless count. “As I got involved with the homeless issue as I became mayor, I saw how little we were doing at the time to change things.”
Velazquez said he does not believe ignoring an issue makes it go away, and that he wants to ensure that members of the local homeless population know there are resources available to them.
A demographic portion of the census is expected to provide information on the homeless population’s age, gender, sexual orientation and military service. Several shelter residents will be conducting the survey.
The results of the census are expected in June as American Community Survey has numbers to tally from counts across the nation. BenitoLink will post them, along with general demographic data, when they are released.
In the meantime, community members are invited to attend a “Census 2020 Join the Conversation” event scheduled for Feb. 21, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Veteran’s Memorial Building in Hollister.