At United Way, we believe “homeless” is an adjective, not a noun. It describes a current situation someone is experiencing, but does not describe the whole person. Individuals experiencing homelessness are members of our community. We must help them in their times of need, just as we would for any member of our community.
Homelessness is a condition that can be caused by any number of tragic life occurrences like the passing of a loved one, job loss, domestic violence, divorce and family disputes, depression, or untreated mental illness or substance abuse. Acknowledging these factors can help facilitate the end of homelessness in our community and in our country. Regardless of how someone becomes homeless, we believe and research shows that they can be assisted to get back on their feet.
Getting to the data behind homelessness is critical to crafting targeted and cost-effective solutions. Over the past five months, homeless service provider agencies, the health care agency, homeless liaisons with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and individual cities worked with 2-1-1 OC to prepare for the Point-in-Time Street and Unsheltered Homeless Count, which provides a snapshot of literal homelessness or persons living in places unfit for human habitation in the community. As part of this work, they mapped areas where the most homeless people have been seen and enclaves that might not be expected. They also visited the mapped areas to ensure they could be walked in one to two hours and that there were no barriers in the walking paths for volunteers.
It’s an eye opener when you consider that the 2013 Count determined that more than 1,600 individuals in our community were without shelter on a single night, and that 12,000 individuals experience homeless in the course of a year. This year’s Count will eclipse that, with the growing numbers of homeless individuals seen outside the Santa Ana Civic Center and the increasingly high cost of rental units throughout the county.
“The Point-in-Time Count is important because it establishes a baseline of our homeless population, so that we can track our progress toward ending homelessness. It also preserves more than $19 million in current federal funding for homeless services in Orange County while enhancing our ability to raise new private and government funds in the future, to implement effective services,” explained Brenyale Toomer-Byas, Sr. Manager of Housing and Grants Administration for United Way.
Last week, several staffers from United Way worked alongside volunteers from AmeriCorps at the Village in Santa Ana. They geared up for the Count by assembling more than 2,000 survey packets and socks and hygiene kits that could be distributed to homeless individuals during the Count. And on Saturday at four am, hundreds of volunteers set out from five deployment centers in Anaheim, Huntington Beach, Irvine, San Clemente and Santa Ana for the actual count.
“Many of the volunteers walked away with a deeper understanding and greater compassion,” added Toomer-Byas. AmeriCorps volunteer Juliana Romo expressed, “The most memorable moment was meeting a sweet family of five: a mother, a father, a daughter, and two Chihuahuas. They were very knowledgeable of current events and were very helpful in participation for the Point-in-Time Survey. After their cooperation, they expressed their gratitude for the morning conversation, but also the bus passes they had received for participating. They expressed how they had been meaning to see a doctor for a check-up, but did not have the means to do so. Public transportation allowed them to make it to a clinic for a check-up.”
AmeriCorps volunteer Val Bravo noted, “It was an interesting and eye opening experience. It made me realize how many things we take for granted that others might need such as toothpaste.” Jonathan Rojas echoed the sentiment that it was very inspiring to see there are people who truly care for our community.
View pictures from the Point-in-Time Count prep here. To learn how you can get more involved in local community volunteer engagement projects with United Way, visit getconnected.unitedwayoc.org.