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