San Diego

‘So Impactful': Volunteers Hear Stories of Homelessness During Annual Count

"It’s just something so impactful to get up close live with folks that are going through a rough time"

Hundreds of volunteers spanned San Diego County on Friday for an annual count of San Diego's homeless population, which helps secure federal and state funding for resources for those living on the streets.

Every year on the last Friday in January, volunteers join healthcare and municipal employees in several cities across the county and country to determine how many people are without permanent housing.

The initiative, called the Point in Time count, allows leaders to put a face to the country's homelessness problem.

During the early-morning count, volunteers approach people living on the streets and ask them a series of questions -- from where they slept the night before to what led to their current situation.

Manuel Rodriguez, who joins the count as part of a small group of volunteers from U.S. Bank, said his co-workers told him this would be an experience he would not forget.

He told NBC 7 they were right.

"It’s just something so impactful to get up close live with folks that are going through a rough time and really learning about them and their situation really with the goal of trying to figure out how to provide better services for those folks," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez was one of more than 700 volunteers who spanned the county to help with the count, organized by the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless.

The goal is to learn more about the overall homelessness epidemic and to identify what type of resources could best aid those living on the streets.

Rodriguez said that many people told him having a disability prevented them from finding work. And when they couldn't find work, they couldn't secure permanent housing.

“Until you get the opportunity to really meet and speak and really get to know these folks, you can’t really figure out the solution to the problem," he said.

Darlene Chavez told volunteers she is homeless after struggling with alcoholism and while she doesn’t know if the annual count will help, she has to help where she can.

"I have a lot of friends that have died out here and we want to do whatever we can to help them," she said when asked why she participates in the count.

The results of the Point in Time count will not be known for several months.

The results from the 2018 count showed the number of homeless people in the San Diego County region had dropped 6 percent from the year before. A total of 8,576 people were determined to be homeless, either sheltered or unsheltered. That's after the total number of homeless in 2017 was up 5 percent from 2016.

After the 2018 count, Mayor Kevin Faulconer touted the drop as a success but said there was still work to be done.

The mayor's 2019 State of the City address focused, as it had the year prior, on the homelessness epidemic as he called for people to change their approach to a "yes in my backyard" mindset.

He said San Diego is full of people who support more services for the homeless but don't want them in their backyard and criticized City Hall for waiting for more housing to be built before taking steps toward fixing the homelessness problem.

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