Volunteers count homeless within San Diego County

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SAN DIEGO -- Hundreds of volunteers fanned out around San Diego County Friday to help officials get a handle on the extent of homelessness in the region.

Volunteers walked downtown sidewalks, checked shelters, looked under freeway overpasses and scoured canyons during the early morning hours in the Point-in-Time Count organized by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless.

While the problem appears to have grown over the past six months or so, that may or may not be changing.

At Project Homeless Connect, an annual one-day resource fair conducted Wednesday by the San Diego Housing Commission to benefit people living on the streets, the number of attendees was actually less than last year -- barely 1,000 compared to more than 1,200. Organizers said at a news conference last week that they expected as many as 1,500.

Also, a monthly count by the Downtown San Diego Partnership Thursday was down 38 percent from December. The area checked by staff is limited, however, and the result could have been impacted by cold temperatures and recent rains, according to the organization.

The countywide homeless count helps quantify the scope of the problem and determines the amount of federal and state funding that comes to area governments and nonprofits.

Last year, 8,692 homeless were counted, with more than 4,900 of them unsheltered. While the overall total was a hair lower than the year before, the number living on the streets was up nearly 19 percent.

According to the task force, the San Diego area has the fourth-highest population of homeless, but ranks only 22nd in funding. Last year, local officials said federal officials planned to change the formula in order to provide San Diego with more funding.

Several politicians plan to gather at Golden Hall to participate in the count, among them Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, county Supervisor Greg Cox, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and City Council members David Alvarez, Scott Sherman and Chris Ward.