Help count Contra Costa County homeless

In an effort to better assess and allocate resources to homeless residents, the Contra Costa Homeless Program is seeking volunteers next week for its annual count of the county’s homeless population, county officials said.

Lavonna Martin, Chief of Homeless Services for Contra Costa Health Services, said the count helps the agency establish a baseline to measure homelessness and access to housing within the county:

“At the end of the day, it’s really important for us to establish an accurate count of those people who are experiencing homelessness in our community.”

Annually, over 8,000 people seek out homeless services in the county, Martin said. Last year, a little more than 8,400 sought services, she said:

“Our point-in-time counts are just snapshots. …¬†We do our best to understand what it looks like on any given night for those who need housing.”

Since the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) first started requiring the point-in-time counts in 2005 for recipients of federal funding for homeless programs, Martin said the methodology has improved.

The Contra Costa Homeless Program has gotten better at not double-counting individuals in the surveys, as well as asking more questions about access to housing, Martin said. Volunteers must be 18 or older and are needed for all parts of Contra Costa County. Volunteers can work one four-hour shift from Wednesday to Friday and must also attend a two-hour training session on Sunday or Monday.

Martin said volunteers will be stationed at organizations that provide resources for homeless residents, such as food banks or emergency rooms, and will be asking people 12 questions about their housing status. Currently 90 volunteers have signed up for the count, and Martin said the agency is looking for 30 to 40 more.

To sign up as a volunteer, visit www.cchealth.org/homeless.