IMPERIAL VALLEY — One of the biggest challenges for Imperial County and other municipalities across the U.S. is finding a way to reduce the amount of people experiencing homelessness.
furtherance of that objective, an annual count compiles mostly demographic data
and reports it to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
On Jan. 24, the Imperial Valley Continuum of Care Council sent out 15 teams of volunteers across the county to confirm the numbers of homeless and also examine ways they came to be unhoused. The data provides a snapshot in time to HUD, explained Isaen Equihua, administrative analyst for the county Department of Social Services. He also consults with the Care Council in a similar capacity.
purpose of the PITC (so-called point-in-time count) is for us to understand who
are the homeless population and what their needs are,” said Equihua.
This is why
the homeless are asked what services they’ve received or those they needed in
the past 18 months.
not guaranteeing any services but we are interviewing the homeless with their
consent so we can better help them,” added Equihua. “We need data to
measure trends to know where we’ve been, are now and going to.”
also scheduled to count the homeless in the Slab City encampment north of
Brawley on Jan. 25. The Care Council is scheduled to finish a report on the
count by the end of April and submit it to HUD by the end of June.
Survey Teams Search and Advise
Once the 56
count volunteers were arranged in teams at the Martin Luther King Pavilion in
El Centro they were dispatched with maps of specific assigned locales. The maps
were drawn up with the help of El Centro Code Enforcement Officer Anna Garcia
who has background engaging with the homeless if and when they run afoul of the
Garcia’s breadth of experience it still required Arturo Lucero, El Centro
building facilities maintenance technician and team captain, a bit of a search
to locate the homeless encampments. After circling the Cinemark theater parking
lot at the Imperial Valley Mall, Lucero drove east to vacant lots just a couple
of hundred yards away.
encampment of five makeshift lodgings were just visible as dawn began to break.
In quiet whispers team volunteers Karrah Cardone and Mayra Ibarra, county
Public Health Department emergency preparedness coordinators, assessed the
just an observation. We can’t wake people up,” said Cardone. “But
I’ve seen five lodgings and five people. There’s another person in the lodging
there (pointing to an adjacent lot).”
around dirt roads on the perimeter west of Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo north
of the mall found no homeless so Lucero drove west on Danenberg Road toward
Fourth Street. A hundred yards past the railroad tracks a homeless gentleman in
hooded sweatshirt, beard and tattoos on his neck and forehead was sitting with
his shopping cart of belongings about 30 feet north of the road.
Homeless Demonstrate Perseverance
The man, Hipolito
Gomez, 34, said he had attended Wilson Junior High School in El Centro but was diagnosed
with schizophrenia just into his teens and dropped out of school. Eventually
Gomez returned to school and graduated from Central Union High School. When
asked by Cardone what services he would like to access, he explained he would
like to get into an apartment and fill it with some food and soda.
stay away from the cops if I can. You don’t want to mess with cops. That’s what
paranoia does to you,” he said.
he receives supplemental Social Security income benefits and Medicaid and has
been homeless for three years.
on my way over to Behavioral Health (2695 S. Fourth Street) to connect with
social services.” said Gomez. “There’s a lot of craziness out here. I
have hallucinations and sometimes I see a zombie.”
Martinez, 35, was found with his shopping cart in a vacant lot 100 yards or so
east of the Home Depot at 320 Wake Ave. Martinez said he is from Michigan but a
desire to see the west brought him to Colorado where he has some family. He has
worked as a massage therapist since he was 17.
traveling with a couple to Yuma, things went kind of awry,” he confided.
“I’ve been here a year and I’m selling recycled cans and bottles. I’m
trying to save to return to my family in Colorado, but it’s hard to make
Sanderson, 44, said she arrived in Imperial County from Sierra Vista, Ariz.,
after leaving her home state of Illinois. She did waitressing at the Po Folks
restaurant as well as housekeeping for motels. She has not worked for several
years since she has fibromyalgia. She was living in a makeshift cardboard tent
just outside the fence at Carl’s Jr., 2215 S. 4th St.
addition, Sanderson said she has borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic
graduated high school and had some college,” she said. “I’ve been
getting by for a while panhandling. If I could, I’d like to get a mobile home.
That’d be great. I’m a party of one, and then I could go anywhere.”
Persistent Outreach Can Pay Off
count the homeless interviewed are asked if they have a physical disability,
are fleeing domestic violence or if they have a serious mental health issue,
explained Equihua. That will determine if they could benefit from the many
services the Care Council could steer them toward. These include counseling for
substance abuse disorder, mental health intervention, physical therapy, housing
and food assistance.
is one of four mandated reports required by HUD,” said Equihua. “Ultimately,
the (count) is one of the critical factors that helps with estimating eligible
resources from various funding entities that could come from a number of state
or federal agencies.”
homeless person, Alani Rivaya, 79, grew up in Niland and was queen of the
Niland Tomato Festival three times, she recalled from a makeshift perch near a
dumpster in the parking lot of the former Lucky supermarket, 351 Wake Ave. She
had been there six days and planned to return to one of the motels she was
renting off Ocotillo Drive and Imperial Ave.
She said her
husband passed away in 2014. Rivaya receives Social Security and until recently
a security guard with a company at Main and Eighth Street,” said Rivaya.
“But when it slowed down a little they said they didn’t need anybody. I
want to go to Palm Springs and open a business. I have some money and I like to
open a shop selling men’s and women’s golf clothes.”
The 2019 count
showed 29 percent of the local homeless were dealing with mental health issues,
14.6 percent with substance abuse, 8 percent were survivors of domestic
violence and 4.3 percent were veterans out of a total homeless population
captain Arturo Lucero noted he looked forward to serving again next year yet
said the interviews were a little too long.
we could restrict it to just the reasons they became homeless, but it would be
rude to interrupt their stories,” said Lucero. “It’s interesting to
hear their history. We always get different people to volunteer. That’s good,
we get the whole city involved.”