Every other year, on one day in January, volunteers across the country come together before dawn to complete a federally mandated count of how many people are sleeping unsheltered in their communities.
At the most recent count, held in January 2019, The Almanac witnessed the process, which involved carpooling with volunteers, a training breakfast, and interviewing volunteers looking to find and count unsheltered people while driving each street of a single census tract in the Willows neighborhood and East Palo Alto – some of them activities that no longer pass public health guidelines amidst the pandemic.
Now, with COVID-19 surging in California, the likelihood that the count – mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – will look like it has in the past is dwindling.
In San Mateo County, the homeless count scheduled for Jan. 28 will not take place, but a new date has not yet been selected, according to Bryan Kingston, a spokesperson for the county's Human Services Agency. In Santa Clara County, officials were evaluating what to do about the count and planned to announce modified plans within the next couple of weeks, according to a county spokesperson.
San Mateo County plans to monitor COVID-19 conditions and reschedule the count when it's safe to do it using the same method that has previously been used, according to Kingston. The county's Human Services Agency is among a number of other jurisdictions that are requesting a waiver from HUD to delay the count, and it does not expect that the shift will have any funding implications, he said.
Throughout the pandemic, the county and community nonprofits have been operating three non-congregate shelters at hotels to help people experiencing homelessness who are vulnerable to developing serious complications from COVID-19. As of Jan. 5, there were 183 people who were being sheltered in these programs, Kingston said. In addition, between March 19 and Dec. 20 last year, 46 of those individuals moved into permanent housing, he added.