[Hpn] SFGate: 250 volunteers in S.F. team up to count people on the streets

William C. Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Thu, 27 Jan 2005 05:48:10 -0500

 The original article can be found on SFGate.com here:
 Thursday, January 27, 2005 (SF Chronicle)
 250 volunteers in S.F. team up to count people on the streets
 Kevin Fagan, Chronicle Staff Writer

   Rick Jones was hunting at 9:45 p.m. Tuesday for the half-empty Coke can 
 left somewhere among the soggy blankets in his shopping cart when he
 suddenly froze. There, walking toward him on Golden Gate Avenue, was the
 strangest thing he'd seen in a long time at this hour, a time when the
 heart of the Tenderloin is generally ruled by drug dealers, their
 desperate customers, or other homeless people like himself.
   It was three gentle-looking women, one young and two middle-aged. They
 were strolling like it was broad daylight -- and one of them had a
   "What in the world are you ladies doing out here?" the heavily bearded 
 asked incredulously.
   "Why, we're here to count you," the young woman, 24-year-old St. 
 Foundation social worker Kyle Murray, answered sweetly as she checked off
 a box on her clipboard. Jones stared, shaking his head.
   "Great," he grumbled, going back to his hunt for the Coke. "I'm a
   One of several thousand, actually.
   Murray and 250 other volunteers spent between 8 p.m. and midnight Tuesday
 conducting the first count in two years of homeless people in San
 Francisco. It was impossible to tell whether the numbers will be up or
 down from the last count of 8,640, taken in October 2002, but the most
 important thing was that the count was done at all.
   City officials under then-Mayor Willie Brown decided in 2002 that the 
 counts done in the future would be conducted by surveying numbers on a
 computer system that tracks services offered to homeless people -- but
 that has now changed because of a new administration at City Hall and new
 federal guidelines.
   The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which annually
 awards the bulk of federal homeless funding, has begun requiring cities
 and counties to count their street homeless population once every two
 years, beginning this year. Areas that don't do the count risk getting a
 lesser cut of the yearly funding -- this week announced at $1.4 billion
 for 2005, with $16.8 million going to San Francisco -- so this week, 430
 jurisdictions from New York to Los Angeles are conducting their tallies.
   San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's homelessness point man, Trent Rhorer,
 said the city had planned to resume the count anyway, because with the
 mayor's new emphasis on helping the chronically homeless -- those most
 visible on the street -- there was no way of determining their needs
 through computer statistics.
   In the 2002 count, the number of people sleeping in the street or in
 vehicles totaled 4,535. That's been used since then as one of the main
 figures for determining the chronically homeless population -- always a
 guess at best -- and Rhorer said he hopes the tally will be more accurate
 this time. He said figures won't be compiled until at least the middle of
 next week.
   The weather was roughly similar for both the Tuesday count and the 2002
 count -- 2002 was bitterly cold, and Tuesday had a smattering of rain.
 Both are conditions that drive some, but not most, homeless people indoors
 wherever they can find the shelter of a roof.
   "We spent the last several months looking at all the areas of the city
 with the help of the Police Department, our outreach teams and other
 people to figure out where the highest concentration of homeless people
 is, and I think we'll get out best count yet," Rhorer said Tuesday night
 as he helped do the counting at SBC Park, driving his route in his car
 with his assistant Pam Tebo. "This is going to give us as true a baseline
 as we can get, and then we will do this count again every year to see how
 we're doing."
   The city was split into 100 different routes for the night, with teams of
 two or three people patrolling each. About two-thirds were driving routes,
 like Rhorer's, but in the Castro, Mission and Tenderloin districts the
 tally takers walked. The areas that needed counting weren't hard to
 determine -- they were the usual homeless haunts, such as along Market
 Street, south of Market and Haight Ashbury.
   Rhorer and Tebo found 10 people in 10 minutes near the corner of Third 
 Illinois streets just by driving slowly and shining a flashlight through
 the storm fencing along the road.
   "How's it going, my man?" Rhorer called out to the first person they
 counted, 55-year-old Joel Gannon. Gannon was walking his German shepherd,
 El Cid, along Illinois, and he gaped with the same sort of surprise that
 Rick Jones showed to the team in the Tenderloin.
   "Just trying to keep warm," Gannon answered slowly, after a moment.
   "What will it take to get you indoors?" Rhorer asked, and Gannon snorted
   "I am indoors, man," he said. "I got a trailer around the corner."
   "Well ..." Rhorer said, and Gannon softened.
   "OK, I could use a job," Gannon said.
   "We'll work on that," Rhorer said. "That's part of what this count is
   Back in the Tenderloin, 45-year-old Robert Young never even looked up as
 Murray and her two counting partners passed him on Hyde Street and marked
 him off on their sheet.
   "What in the world would they want to count me for?" he asked, sitting on
 the sidewalk with his legs splayed out before him. "Hell, I don't even
 know what year it is."

 Copyright 2005 SF Chronicle