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By Michael Fagans / The Californian
BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
A massive headcount was under way Wednesday night as local agencies tallied the number of homeless people spending the night at their facilities.
Louis Medina, homelessness project manager for United Way of Kern County, said Wednesday's count marks the first time the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is requiring a tally of homeless people staying in shelters every year.
"It will gives us a more up-to-date pulse on the homeless community," Medina said.
Last year, local agencies not only counted the number of homeless people in shelters on a particular January day, but organizers also took to the streets to total the homeless staying outside of shelters. Medina said some areas conduct homelessness censuses of that magnitude every year, which can give them an edge in applying for funds.
In 2009, Kern County's point-in-time homelessness count tallied 667 people in shelters and 832 unsheltered homeless, according to HUD data.
As part of Wednesday's headcount, organizers asked people to participate in a survey. Their answers will illuminate who makes up the local homeless population and what kind of services are needed, organizers said.
"The questions that are on there are questions that are going to help us to be able to refer any of our guests staying at the shelters to the right kind of services," said Steve Peterson, program director at the Bakersfield Rescue Mission.
Peterson, who is also on the Kern County Homeless Collaborative's census committee, said the task serves the collaborative's goal of helping the homeless. However, people were not required to complete the survey.
At the Bakersfield Rescue Mission Wednesday night, the line of men waiting to be counted stretched outside the door at dusk. Several men said they didn't take issue with the questioning.
"I don't mind taking (the survey). Me, myself, I don't have no problem with it," said John Drake, who said he has been staying at the shelter for a year.
Drake said the mission staff welcomed him with a bed and food after he had to surrender his apartment following struggles with drinking.
Drake was in favor of the survey, recalling a similar questionnaire he completed "many years ago." However, he predicted many homeless would avoid taking it.
"I'm just hoping they maybe can draw something from (the survey) to maybe be able to help better," Drake said, adding that he fears for the many people facing hard times, especially the young people he sees in need.
Peterson said the mission has 248 beds in its shelters and recently added 31. The mission is currently housing 250 to 275 people a night between its shelters and one-year program, according to Peterson.