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Volunteers fan out across Sonoma County for annual homeless count

After waking from under a truck minutes before, Pat Weaver, 53 and partner Louis walk south along Santa Rosa Avenue after being counted in the homeless census and survey in Santa Rosa on Friday, Jan. 25, 2013.

(Kent Porter / Press Democrat)
Published: Friday, January 25, 2013 at 5:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 25, 2013 at 5:54 p.m.

Pat Weaver and her partner, Louis, spent the night sleeping under a delivery truck parked at the Budget Rental lot on Santa Rosa Avenue.

Like many other homeless people in the county, the money the couple receives from the government, a combined $1,700 a month, runs out toward the end of the month, quickly depleted by nightly motel costs.

“How long do you think that's going to last at $70 a night,” said Louis, who declined to give his last name, taking a bite of Maruchan Instant Lunch noodles.

Homeless shelters in the county are at full capacity this winter, many with long waiting lists, leaving Weaver and Louis to crawl under a truck for the night, where they slept on damp asphalt surrounded by the scent of motor oil.

They were among several thousand homeless people tallied Friday in Sonoma County's official annual homeless count, a massive daylong campaign that sends up to 160 volunteers and paid guides canvassing across all of the county's 99 census tracts

The census operation, which involves counting both people “on the street” and in shelters, is coordinated by the county Community Development Commission. The campaign is funded annually by $2.6 million in federal grants.

Early in the morning, volunteers and paid homeless guides gathered at deployment centers in Healdsburg, Guerneville, Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Boyes Hot Springs.

In Santa Rosa, dozens of volunteers gathered about 6:15 a.m. to receive their assignment in the dining hall at the Samuel L. Jones Hall, a shelter on Finley Avenue run by Catholic Charities.

“This one has Santa Rosa Creek, from Indian Health over to Fulton Road. Who knows that area?” said Jenny Abramson, coordinator of the county Continuum of Care, the framework of shelters, housing and other homeless services. “Who knows the Rodota Trail? Who knows the Rodota Trail? Steve knows. Go, Steve!”

By 6:45, the teams headed out to their designated areas. Pat Jones, an unemployed volunteer who used to work at the Sam Jones shelter, teamed up with paid guide Annette Adkins of Petaluma. The two covered an area of south Santa Rosa, from Petaluma Hill Road and Santa Rosa Avenue down to Kawana Springs Road.

Jones encountered Weaver and Louis early in their count. Equipped with a clipboard and flashlight, the two walked down streets looking behind commercial buildings, along creeks, behind dumpsters and in parking lots.

Weaver said she's been homeless “off and on” for many years, much of that time with Louis. All their belongings are kept in a mid-size suitcase.

“That's the thing about being homeless — people take your stuff,” said Weaver.

As a rule, the teams do not engage the people they encounter. The determination of whether or not someone is homeless is based on a team member's experience. That's one reason why the campaign utilizes paid homeless people to guide the volunteers, which includes county and nonprofit social service employees who work with homeless people.

Karen Bernard-Flores, who works with the county's mental health mobile support team, covered an area of Rincon Valley but only came up with about five people.

“I actually live in that area, so you don't really think of it,” she said. “Trying to look for homeless people or people living in cars gives you a different perspective.”

Abramson said she expects an increase in the homeless population because local shelters have been reporting year-round waiting lists.

Jennielynn Holmes, the program manager for Catholic Charities' shelter and housing programs, was part of a team that covered the Roseland area. Holmes said her group found 38 homeless people and numerous encampments along the railroad tracks, abandoned buildings, under freeways and along the Joe Rodota trail.

The Sam Jones shelter, which has a capacity of about 120 adults, has a current waiting list of 38 people, Holmes said. The Family Support Center in downtown Santa Rosa, another Catholic Charities shelter with 138 beds, has a current waiting list of 33 families.

“We've had a constant waiting list for about a year and a half now of at least 20 families,” she said.

Last year's homeless count was 4,539, of which 1,200 people were counted in shelters, Abramson said. The results of the current count won't be available until a final report is released in April.

(You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com)

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