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Count Will Further Help for Homeless Population
Anna Garcia, co-chair of the 2020 homeless count in Imperial County, at Slab city north of Brawley in January 2019 instructing volunteers for last year’s count. | Photo courtesy of Anna Garcia

Count Will Further Help for Homeless Population

IMPERIAL COUNTY — The homeless camps that have become a common sight, especially in El Centro, may lead some to wonder just how many in Imperial County are without a permanent dwelling. That answer will come soon due to the annual “point in time” count to be conducted Jan. 24-25 by Imperial County and the area’s lead agency for the homeless.

“Our aim is on getting accurate numbers of the homeless. The count is a snapshot of the Imperial Valley’s homeless in real time,” said Anna Garcia, co-chair of the count effort of the Imperial Valley Continuum of Care Council.

The council, which operates under the oversight of Imperial County and its Department of Social Services, helps administer funding for homeless-assistance programs in the county.

“It’s how we qualify to apply for federal grants from HUD (Housing and Urban Development),” Garcia said of the count effort.

Where Counts Will Occur

On Jan. 24, volunteers will count the homeless in local cities during the afternoon and evening and on Jan. 25 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. will visit Slab City, a former military base north of Brawley popular with those who do not have permanent dwellings. The council has 75 volunteers for the city effort and 45 for Slab City, officials said.

At Slab City there will be four stations for the homeless to meet with volunteers including the Blue Church, Oasis Cafe, Mojo’s Camp and the public space at the base of Salvation Mountain.

Homeless persons will be asked how long they have been homeless, if they obtain services, what services would they like, if they are a veteran, are they the head of household, how many in their household, were they recently released from prison and when, total number in their household and how much schooling they have completed.

The count comes as HUD maintains the county needs to track homeless data more efficiently through a Homeless Management Information System. It is a computerized data collection tool designed to archive client statistics over time concerning the needs of men, women and children experiencing homelessness.

Safety First

An important element for the counters is safety, Garcia explained. Volunteers are divided into four-person teams with a lead and the other three members doing the surveys. The details obtained from the homeless about their situations is vital to getting them assistance, Garcia explained.

“Everybody has a different story so you can’t generalize the entire homeless population. We acquire data in a case-by-case study,” she said. “We just do the census. We are not there to provide any professional services. That’s not our purpose.”

Volunteers will provide a resource sheet with a list of services and places where the homeless can find emergency shelter. These include organizations such as 2-1-1 San Diego, Catholic Charities’ Guadalupe Men’s Shelter, House of Hope, Neighborhood House and WomanHaven.

“From what I’ve seen, the biggest problems are substance abuse and behavioral health issues,” said Garcia. “The majority of the homeless we encounter in the inner cities are already receiving some type of service.”

In 2019 the count recorded 1,413 homeless in the county. Of that number, 33 percent were women, 4.3 percent veterans, 20.7 percent families with children, 4.9 percent young adults 18 to 24, and 35 percent were chronically homeless.

“It can be difficult to get every individual’s story but we can see how they are different from one another,” said Garcia. “I’m already dealing with some of these individuals on a day-to-day basis (Garcia is an El Centro code enforcement officer). We’re already acquainted so it helps them to open up. We are trying to build rapport with them this way.”

This story is featured in the Jan 23, 2020 e-Edition.

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