Fewer people are living on the streets of Merced County, according to numbers released Friday by homeless advocates.
The number of homeless people in Merced County living in a shelter or on the street was 454, down 12.5 percent compared with the previous year, members of the Merced County Continuum of Care said Friday. A tally from the group conducted in January found more than a third, or 156, were living in shelters or transitional housing programs.
The Continuum and leaders from around the county gathered in the Merced Theatre for the second Homeless Summit.
Merced City Manager Steve Carrigan, who is the chairman of the Continuum, said volunteers conducted face-to-face interviews with people during the count. The new method also shortened the length of time the count was made.
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“These are solid, reliable numbers,” he said Friday.
The number of homeless people in the city of Merced is down 18.8 percent compared with last year, with 177 people counted living on the streets, numbers show.
454Number of homeless people in Merced County
Housing homeless veterans has been a particular focus of area advocates. The tally found 17 homeless veterans this year compared with 25 in 2016, saying eight were placed in housing, the Continuum reported.
The majority of people living unsheltered – 94.3 percent – were located in Merced, Los Banos, Atwater and Winton. In Atwater and Winton, there were 26 homeless people counted, a decline of two people, or 7.1 percent.
“The homeless are on the move. We want them to get help. We want them to use the shelters,” Carrigan said. “We don’t want people sleeping on the streets, in the bushes or the parks. It’s not humane. It’s not civilized. It’s not anything that we should want for our brothers or sisters, sons or daughters.
“But they have to be trying to get the help we have available, or they need to move on somewhere else,” he said.
Los Banos was the only area counted that saw an increase. Sixteen more homeless people in Los Banos brought the total to 78 homeless, a 25.8 percent, numbers show.
The Rev. Steve Hammond, Los Banos’ point man on homelessness, said “new faces” account for the rise on the West Side. The pastor at Bethel Community Church said some of the new faces came from out of the area, while others have roots in Los Banos.
But they have to be trying to get the help we have available, or they need to move on somewhere else.
Steve Carrigan, Merced city manager
Carrigan said the Continuum has helped position Merced to potentially receive more than $2 million in state funding.
Called the Homeless to Housing Team, a new group of outreach workers will be hitting the streets in the coming months to assess homeless people and direct them to housing and other help, according to Carol Bowman, former CEO of United Way of Merced County and a member of the Continuum.
“We will be getting them into permanent housing using the best practices that have been proven to work,” Bowman said.
There are also seven projects underway in Merced expected to provide more than 130 beds for the homeless, leaders said.
The Continuum’s work has been effective, according to Joe Colletti, executive director of Urban Initiatives, the nonprofit that contracts with the county to organize homeless efforts.
“This year’s homeless count shows that what the Continuum is doing is working and that next year it will be able to do even more to help end homelessness in Merced County,” he said.
By the numbers
Total homeless in Merced County: 454, down 12.5 percent
Merced: 177, down 18.8 percent
Los Banos: 78, up 25.8 percent
Atwater and Winton: 26, down 7.1 percent