While most people were likely sleeping, more than 70 people grouped together at the Community Resource Center (CRC) in Encinitas on the morning of Jan. 27 to participate in a nationwide effort to count the homeless population.
The We All Count effort — which annually takes place on the last Friday in January between the hours of 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. across the country — was developed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to conduct a count of the homeless.
The results can lead to extra funding for local agencies, according to the San Diego County-based Regional Task Force on the Homeless (RTFHSD).
“Only by knowing who, where, and how many people are experiencing homeless can we plan and identify the resources needed to best serve the most vulnerable, and ultimately move families and individuals into permanent housing,” the organization’s website reads.
Rebecca Palmer, chief program officer at the CRC, said the official Encinitas citywide count would not be available until sometime in March. She could not immediately give an estimate of how many people were counted.
Palmer said last year’s county statistics indicated San Diego had the third highest homeless population in the country, likely due to migration.
Last year, when the Encinitas total was tallied, 93 people were found to be living on the streets, in vehicles or in shelters in the city, according to the RTFHSD’s 2016 comprehensive report. The document specified about 28 percent of those people were found to be chronically homeless, 22 percent suffered from mental illness, 17 percent were currently on probation or parole, 17 percent were female, six percent suffered from substance abuse and six percent were veterans.
In an effort to gain at least 34 volunteers for this year’s We All Count effort, Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear put out a Mayor’s Challenge. Seventy-six people showed up, according to the CRC, which provides food and resources for homeless individuals between Oceanside and Del Mar.
Volunteers braved weather that dipped into the low 40s and were divided up into teams of two-to-three people to scour areas of the city in search of homeless individuals. Each group was handed a map of a certain area so the entire city could be searched.
Megan Jones, 40, of East Village, said she has been participating in the event for about three years and chose to volunteer in Encinitas to help a different community.
“I think it’s really important to get an accurate look at what our situation is,” she said. “This knowledge will help us, and information is power.”
The mayor, her husband Jeremy Blakespear and John Economides, senior policy and strategy advisor for the CRC, searched an area that encompassed parts of downtown and Coast Highway 101, as well as places such as The Lumberyard shopping center, the Pacific View School property, Cottonwood Creek Park, Moonlight Beach and Swami’s Beach.
About a dozen people were counted in their search.
Mayor Catherine Blakespear said she was thankful for the community’s support in the homeless count.
“I’m grateful so many community members were willing to brave the cold and the early morning to contribute to this effort,” Blakespear said. “It shows a raised awareness about the humanitarian crisis of homelessness, which is on the rise. We all need to understand better what’s happening.”