SF conducts survey of homeless population
January 28, 2011 4:56 PM
In an effort to gain federal funding to combat chronic homelessness in the city, the Human Services Agency of San Francisco teamed up with government offices, private organizations and hundreds of volunteers last night to estimate the number of homeless residing in San Francisco.
"It's not about the actual solid numbers," Dr. Rajesh Parekh, director of the Homeless Outreach Team, said. "We are focusing on the trends, if it's generally less or more than what was in the past."
During an orientation for volunteers prior to the count, analyst Ali Schlageter informed them of situations they should be aware of during the biennial count.
"Do not invade the privacy of the people," Schlageter said. HSA counts encampments separately using a mathematical method to determine the number of people per encampment, Schlageter said. The night's orientation began at 7 p.m. and continued into the count that ended at approximately midnight.
"The number two rule is to count the homeless," she continued. "But the number one rule is to be safe."
San Francisco Police Department Lt. Henry Parra echoed Schlageter's precautions as he reminded counters that his officers' top priority is the safety of the volunteers.
Parra gave the counters an emergency number to call in case there were any confrontations during the count.
Mayor Edwin Lee informed the group that the past and current efforts being put forth in San Francisco's bi-annual count has become the template for how the nation will carry out their counts.
Teams were broken up into groups of two to four, along with a representative of the HSA, Homeless Outreach Team or other persons experienced with the count to advise the team when needed.
Parekh, teamed with volunteer David Nakanishi, surveyed a 12-block area downtown between Market and Mason Streets and Taylor and Post Streets.
This marks Nakanishi's fourth time volunteering with the homeless count.
"You really need to know the area," Nakanishi said. "In places like the Tenderloin or Haight, you need a lot of discretion to differentiate between someone who's homeless or someone on drugs but has housing."
One of the signs that Nakanishi and Parekh looked for was the possession of bags. "Usually if someone has somewhere to go, they don't carry a shopping cart full of clothes, nor do they carry large bags," Parekh said.
Another indicator is their dress, Parekh said.
Nakanishi said that not all panhandlers are homeless. A number of them get government funding but are still unable to make ends meet, so they end up asking for change, Nakanishi said.
"The purpose of this count is to help us get funding to help these people," Parekh said. "Beyond this count, we have volunteers and surveyors in shelters, churches, food banks and housing developments adding qualitative data to the quantitative data we're getting. We get to see what these people really need, on top of how many people need help."
Additional counts will be done today in larger parks in which officers, park rangers and more volunteers will be doing the same form of surveying.
"The face of homelessness is not often recognized" Nakanishi said. Knowing these figures, he said, can put more focus on what we can do.
Pamela Tebo, assistant to the executive director of the HSA, estimated the final count and collection of all of the surveys are to be finished near April.
"Many homeowners associations and neighborhood committees often ask me, 'What can I do to get rid of the homeless around here?'" Parekh said. "The real question they should be asking is: 'How can I help these people?'"
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