Some of the locals gathered at the Homeless Coalition's Winter Shelter in Hollister before dawn Jan. 28 to conduct a countywide census of homeless people.
Calls for more jobs echoed from 6 a.m. through early morning, as community members ranging from volunteers to county officials worked together in pairs and otherwise small groups in support of a biannual survey required by the federal government.
San Benito County's Point-in-Time Count, one part of a national census since 2005, aimed to accrue the most accurate and complete demographics of people living with no reliable housing this winter across the county, which houses more than 50,000 residents.
Officials expect results in the next couple of months.
Enrique Arreola, a deputy director with the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, said in a statement to BenitoLink that the efforts across the county Wednesday will help the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a federal agency, determine disbursements of national funding for local homeless support services across the country.
Arreola pointed to a shortfall of funding, along with too few employment opportunities, as ongoing woes in the community.
“There just aren’t enough jobs in our community,” said Arreola. “As many as 70 percent of our working locals works outside the county.”
Homeless Coalition Executive Director Linda Emerson also stressed the local need for further economic development.
“We never had so many people,” said Emerson, who oversees the Winter Shelter on Southside Road. “Some of them come to the shelter every winter. But this year, I think a lot of people came from other communities.”
The facility that Emerson runs is open four months per year, holds 24 beds and has a small overflow room. Few individuals in the past decade were turned away or removed from the premises, according to Emerson.
In an attempt to correctly count the number of homeless people across the county, the 2015 census included three parts—a shelter count, a street count and an informational study.
“The county was divided into smaller areas to enhance the accuracy of the census numbers,” said Jim Parker, the director of grants and special projects with the Community Foundation. “Teams were then responsible for the counts within those boundaries. Maps and count sheets were then scrutinized to further protect against double counting.”
Other community leaders who participated in the 2015 event included Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, who previously said that a $1.5 million Community Development Block Grant will help construct a facility for the homeless in San Benito County. The grant is designated for a transitional shelter — similar to a dormitory — with a kitchen facility. Velazquez has called it "kind of an emergency-type of setting for the homeless to come through." For the BenitoLink story detailing the grant, click here.