[Hpn] Making homeless count/Volunteers tally San Francisco's street people

William Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Fri, 26 Oct 2001 23:44:04 -0400

Friday, October 26, 2001 (SF Chronicle)
Making homeless count/Volunteers tally San Francisco's street people
Ryan Kim, Chronicle Staff Writer

   In the three months since he was evicted from his Tenderloin apartment,
Ray Roy Ford has wandered the streets, part of the faceless community of
homeless in San Francisco.
   But for one night, the 50-year-old former bricklayer mattered again. For
one night he counted.
   Ford was among the thousands tallied in the city's third annual homeless
count, an unscientific census aimed at getting a handle on the number of
San Francisco's street population.
   The one-night head count, performed last night, helps the city decide
where and how to allocate the approximately $60 million set aside annually
for homeless services.
   "Normally, I'm neglected, it's like I don't mean anything to anyone,"
Ford, clutching a trash bag and his walking cane. "It is something to be
noticed, to know someone cares about you. It makes a difference."
   The results of the census will not be released until next week. The last
homeless count a year ago found 5,376 people, a fraction of the 14,000
that homeless advocates estimate to be the actual population.
   George Smith, director of the mayor's Office on Homelessness, agreed the
census could be improved, but said it is the only tool available so far to
gauge the city's homeless population.
   "It could be better if we had more money to do it," said Smith, who was
formerly homeless himself. "But we're trying to show the importance of
just doing a count. A lot of people giving us numbers are just
   Like the two previous efforts, last night's count was performed by
volunteers. A mix of about 110 city employees, homeless service workers
and concerned residents scoured assigned blocks, marking down people who
bore the telltale signs of life on the streets: sleeping gear, a shopping
cart or multiple layers of clothing.
   While volunteers were told to limit contact with the homeless, not
everyone obeyed.
   Ruby Compton, a homeless case manager at Next Door shelter in San
Francisco and Lynda Minor, one of the residents at the shelter, found it
hard to keep their distance from their subjects.
   The pair toured the Tenderloin, occasionally running across
other times attracting a crowd. The women tallied 69 people in their
portion of the neighborhood, while also offering encouragement, advice and
   "So many people don't care about the homeless, they're like trash under
their feet," said Compton. "But these are human beings and they need
   For Minor, the trip allowed her to meet many homeless people she lived
with before she was accepted into the shelter. It was also a reminder of
how easy it is to become homeless.
   "Many people are just a paycheck and a savings account from being on the
streets," said Minor, who moved to San Francisco from San Diego in the
summer. "That's the truth."
   Compton and Minor met dozens of homeless people who related tales of
losing work, being evicted or being hobbled by infirmities, both physical
and mental.
   Rudolph Price, 56, was a jazz guitarist until he ran out of steady jobs
three years ago.
   "I used to play a lot of the clubs in this city," Price said wistfully.
"Now it's just so hard to get housing here."
   Price was also encouraged by the count, a momentary reminder that he is
not totally forgotten.
   "It makes me feel good that someone's paying attention," said Price.
people know we're homeless, but they don't care about us."
   As the night wore on, the pair became more engaging. Compton invited some
to apply at her shelter. For others she offered prayers.
   Judith Gilmore, a 40-year-old who's been homeless for three years,
received Compton's prayers and advice. Though heartened, she still had
problems with the city's homeless services.
   "There are not enough shelters for women," complained Gilmore. "There are
resources, but the shelters have too many criteria to meet."
   The head count took Compton and Minor to the edge of the Tenderloin,
it meets the tony hotels near Union Square. There, businessmen and
teenagers walked by, nonchalantly avoiding the people sitting on the
streets, some wedged into doorways.
   "It's like that all over the country. People don't see you. It's like
you're a non-person," said Minor.
   Minor said she's not entirely sure how the numbers will eventually
the homeless population. But she hopes the count might mobilize more help
for people like herself.
   "I hope people will realize we've got a lot of work to do," she said.
   E-mail Ryan Kim at rkim@sfchronicle.com.
Copyright 2001 SF Chronicle