Locals help count Riverside’s homeless

Reagan Lee | Banner | Ashwin Sharma, first year medical student at the University of California, Riverside, conducts the Point in Time survery with Tanya, 52, who has been homeless for 4 years.

Hundreds of volunteers woke up before the sun Jan. 29 with one goal in mind, to help Riverside county’s homeless population as part of the annual Point-in-Time count.

Armed with phones and electronic devices, volunteers scoured the county and met their neighbors without homes.

A total of 747 volunteers were split into separate groups that each contained four or five individuals.

Each group’s primary interviewer asked questions from a survey that was included in a new application.

The new application was created to make the process of counting the homeless population easier and faster for the volunteers.

Some questions were personal, such as whether the person struggling with homelessness was addicted to any illegal substance. While others were concerned with whether or not they were a veteran.

“Tuesday morning was tough because I thought we were doing a really good job with the homeless situation,” said Riverside Mayor William “Rusty” Bailey. “But afterward, it makes you realize how far you still have to go.”

Bailey has been pushing initiatives that help with the city’s homeless population.

His most recent victory was opening housing units located near The Grove Church in Riverside that are used to help those who are struggling with homelessness.

The 2017 Point-in-Time count found more than 134,000 people struggling with home- lessness in California alone.

Among those were 15,000 people between the ages of 18- 24, the average age range of undergraduate college students.

Many agree that housing is a good step, including Natalie Komuro, Riverside County’s deputy county executive officer of Homeless Solutions.

Komuro said the city needs to focus on offering ways out of homelessness such as addiction recovery, mental health and employment services.

Because the need for housing is so great, Komuro said they have to prioritize housing for those who are more likely to get out of their present situation and experience lasting change because of the help they receive.

“We have to prioritize the homeless based on vulnerability,” Komuro said. “We need to offer solutions such as supportive solutions that help people become more self-reliant.”

Komuro said she was amazed at the honesty she heard from a lot of people. Swpecifically one young man she met during the count who was open about his struggles with addiction. When she asked him if he would like help breaking his addiction, he said no.

“We might not be able to help him, but he was open about it,” Komuro said.

Madison Morris, sophomore biomedical engineering major, offered her thoughts on the homeless situation.

“You hear about homelessness on news outlets, but it is a different thing entirely to see it head-on,” Morris said. “In every city I’ve been to here in California, I’ve seen real people on the streets. It’s sad but there’s only so much we can do.”

Homelessness breaks into two categories: people who have no permanent lodging but are staying in homeless shelters or in communities, and those who live on the streets.

Last year’s count in Riverside County found 2,310 people considered homeless, 625 considered sheltered homeless and 1,685 unsheltered.

According to Komuro, despite the new application making the process of counting the numbers and verifying information easier, this year’s results will not be disclosed until approximately April 1.

About Misty Severi

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