The number of people tallied during a Merced County homeless count last month was 899, 17 percent higher than it was the same time last year, the Continuum of Care reported in a presentation Wednesday.
Volunteers with Continuum, a group of advocates and service providers who deal with homeless-related issues, counted the 876 adults and 23 children throughout the county last month, compared with last year’s 768. The number of homeless in the city of Merced was also higher at 592, compared with 476 last year.
The group that did the count was able to search Atwater and Winton more thoroughly than last year, according to Joe Colletti, executive director of Urban Initiatives, the nonprofit that contracts with the county to oversee homeless efforts.
The numbers of homeless recorded in Atwater and Winton made up about half of the increase this year from 2014, according to the report. Some parts of the county, such as Livingston, drew no volunteers for the count.
Finding homes for nearly 900 people “can seem like an overwhelming task,” Colletti said.
So the continuum breaks the homeless people into subgroups to try to attack the issue. The tally found that 88 of the county’s homeless are veterans, 88 are seniors and 26 have HIV or AIDS, among other demographics.
The continuum can use those numbers to try to search out grants aimed at housing veterans, those with HIV or other issues.
About 65 percent of the homeless in the county are men, 38 have a physical disability, 33 have a mental illness and 34 percent are substance abusers.
A count of homeless living outside of a shelter is required every other year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which uses the numbers to determine how much money to seek from Congress. The overwhelming majority of continuum groups around the country do a count once a year.
The Continuum of Care 10-year Plan to End Homelessness is about five years in and the numbers continue to rise. Los Banos City Manager Steve Carrigan, who is the chairman of the continuum, said it is difficult to track the success of the effort until the continuum can get a more accurate count each year.
He said the increase this year is likely a reflection of the continuum getting better at the count and the county seeing an increase in homeless people. “The economy still hasn’t gotten to a point where we’re seeing a substantial decrease in homelessness,” he said.
Los Banos, which has the second largest population in the county, saw a slight decrease in its homeless. Carrigan estimated half of the city’s homeless population is there on a long-term basis while the rest are more nomadic.
John Carlisle, a former probation officer and a member of the continuum, said the city of Merced, which has 80 percent of the county’s homeless, could benefit from a “champion” of the homeless. That champion would likely have to have the political prowess or pocketbook to make a dent in that population or spearhead the effort.
Questions still remain if the continuum has been successful.
Colletti said the continuum does not have a comprehensive list how many people have been housed since the start of the 10-year plan, but he’s working on one.
A survey of homeless advocates and service providers at the presentation Wednesday did provide some success stories. Merced County Veterans Services workers, Rescue Mission staff and others reported dozens of people and families have been housed through various efforts in the past three months alone.
Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.