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San Juan County will count its homeless population Jan. 28

San Juan County Health & Community Services will participate in the state’s annual Point in Time Count of Homeless Persons on Jan. 28.

Prior to that date, it will contact and enlist the cooperation of local agencies and organizations that come in contact with homeless members of the community.

The annual count was mandated by a state law passed in 2005 which seeks to reduce homelessness in the state by 50 percent by 2015. The first survey in San Juan County, performed in 2007, identified 28 people as homeless, but last year’s count totaled 73, and it is expected that number will be larger this year due to the difficult local and national economic situation, county Communications Director Stan Matthews said in a press release.

Last year’s survey found that a significant number of San Juan County’s homeless were families with young children and teen-agers; more than half were younger than 21 and more than a third were younger than 13.

The number of individuals identified as “unsheltered” more than doubled from 9 in 2008 to 23 in 2009. "Unsheltered" refers to men, women and children living in cars, tents, boats without live-aboard facilities, or temporarily housed in motels with short-term help from churches or other organizations. The rest were being temporarily sheltered by friends or family members.

San Juan County has adopted a Ten-Year Homelessness Prevention Plan to combat the problem, and in 2009 the County Council approved a Senior Rent Subsidy Program to help qualifying seniors who have an extremely low income. That subsidy has been continued in 2010, however resources are very limited so criteria for qualifying is rigorous. Resources for other homeless groups are likely limited.

Count organizers say it is impossible to discover the exact number of members of the community who are homeless or staying with friends or family in unstable situations. However, the annual count provides the best available information and can give community leaders, and concerned citizens a sense of the dimension of the problem.

Organizations which will be asked to assist in the county include local schools, food banks, churches, healthcare providers, support service counselors, youth groups, Senior Centers, Family Resource Centers, Sheriff’s Department, Fire and EMS departments, and others. Facilities, such as food banks, that may not be open on Thursdays may conduct their count on a different day in which they are scheduled to be open, as long as it is during the same week.

Questions that will be asked of people identifying themselves as homeless include approximate age, gender, whether they have dependent children who are also homeless, whether they are a senior citizen, have a disability, a drug or alcohol addiction, if they are chronically homeless or if they have a temporary living situation with friends or relatives also known as “couch surfing.”

Personal information collected in the count is kept confidential and identifying information, such as names or birth dates, cannot be collected without the written consent of the individual.

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