It’s something we seem to hear every year…the number of homeless people has gone down here in Kern County. And today hundreds of volunteers gathered to count 8,000 square miles of the county. However, that count isn’t necessarily the most accurate when describing the homeless population today.
Volunteers with the Kern County Homeless Collaborative fanned out over the county to survey the homeless population through a census in order to help them. “We do the homeless census count every year and then we use that money to write grants for homeless and get money from head to hopefully provide services for the homeless population,” said Tina Posey, the chair of the Homeless Collaborative. Officials say they won’t have a final homeless count for another several weeks. But Carlos Baldovinos with the Mission at Kern County says he sees more people staying at the mission around this time of year. “We have the population built in here, we’re roughly serving 300 individuals per day, and at any given moment that are staying with us nightly,” said Baldovinos.
The point of the census is helping the homeless get off the streets. “A lot of our homeless do want a home so these funds allow us to maybe give them a section 8 voucher, a hotel, some kind of rapid rehousing just some kind of benefit to give them services that they normally wouldn’t get and they can’t afford,” said Posey. According to the census two-years ago there were 200 to 300 homeless people unsheltered and about 900 homeless people were sheltered.
However, officials say those census numbers aren’t always accurate. “Everybody really looks at the final number, how many people did we count, but it’s really how many could we find and were willing to talk to us today so we need to focus on what the data tells us, what are the percentage of people who are chronically homeless the percentage of medical needs of the people who are on our streets instead of that exact number, because it is not the exact number of homeless people in our community and we know that so we really look at what the data tells us instead of that final number,” said Heather Kimmel with the Kern County Homeless Collaborative. And Baldovinos says those inaccuracies are taken into account. “It’s a voluntary account, so you can’t force anybody to be counted, you can’t entice them with anything, so you know it could vary, it varies from year to year,” said Baldovinos.
Baldovinos also said that the length of time that the homeless population was counted has changed recently. The count used to take place for longer than 12 hours like it has for the past couple of years. Last night, volunteers counted people in the shelters and this morning, they counted people living on the streets.