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Orange County to resume counting homeless people with coronavirus safety measures

Two volunteers speak with homeless men.
City Net volunteer and licensed vocational nurse Angie Munoz, left, and lead case manager Jennifer Munoz speak with homeless men in the 1800 block of Placentia Avenue in Costa Mesa during Orange County’s 2019 Point in Time count.
(Raul Roa / Times Community News)

After the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the biannual Point in Time count earlier this year, Orange County officials are looking for volunteers interested in helping compile a comprehensive census of the county’s homeless population in 2022.

The count is scheduled to begin Jan. 24 and continue over several days. It is a federally required biennial census of the homeless that collects demographic data and other information so agencies can update their practices and resources. The tally also helps determine how much funding Orange County will receive to address homelessness issues.

In 2022, City Net, a Long Beach-based nonprofit, will help lead volunteers and other organizations collect information showing: the number of people experiencing homeless people in the county; where people are staying in the county; demographics of individuals and families, including veterans, youth between the ages of 18 to 24, seniors and the number of people affected by physical or mental health concerns of disabilities. The count will also include people living in emergency and transitional shelters.

Doug Brecht, acting director of the county’s Office of Care Coordination, said it’s challenging to forecast what the 2022 count will show but believes there may be a “mild increase” of unsheltered people based on conversations he has had with on-the-ground service providers and colleagues.

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“In terms of results, from my perspective, it’s hard to give a prediction especially against our 2019 count because it’s not only been three years, but what’s happened during those three years,” Brecht said.

In December 2020, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allowed Orange County to go without conducting its 2021 count because of COVID-19.

Plans are underway to get things ready in time, but Brecht said they are meeting weekly with County Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau to access whether the count can safely proceed amid this winter surge in coronavirus cases.

“We’re moving forward in the planning process like it’ll happen,” Brecht said. “With that being said, we’ll take all appropriate precautions and stick to public health guidelines and practices for this count.”

All volunteers must show proof of being fully vaccinated, including the booster shot, with the second dose completed in the last six months. Those who received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine must have been given it within the last two months. Otherwise they will be required to show proof of a negative PCR test within 48 hours of the scheduled volunteer shift.

As hotels shift away from sheltering homeless people as part of Project Roomkey, Los Angeles is racing to distribute thousands of rental vouchers it received from various stimulus bills.

Despite vaccination status, volunteers will be required to wear face masks. Masks will be provided if necessary.

Brecht said volunteers who go into the field will be paired with those they may already know in order to remain in their “social circle.”

If the 2022 count moves forward, the data collected will help compare and contrast rates with the 2019 results that used new methodologies and technology. The last count conducted in 2019 found nearly 7,000 people living in shelters or on the streets countywide, an uptick from the 2017 count.

At the time, county officials warned that the increase could be partly attributed to new methodologies that provided a more comprehensive and detailed overview compared to previous years.

“It’s an incredibly valuable census and when it’s done consistently methodology over a period of years,” Brecht said. “It really provides a baseline and shows how the interventions you’re applying between PIT counts and what their effectiveness really is.”

Since the last count, area cities have stepped up their game in addressing homelessness. Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach each opened homeless shelters. The cities of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach under a joint agreement opened a permanent bridge shelter in Costa Mesa.

Vega writes for Times Community News.


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