Alameda County to request exemption from counting homeless population

Nirvana Ellaboudy/File
According to EveryOne Home staff, the spread of COVID-19 in Alameda County has led to health concerns and barriers for acquiring an accurate and reliable count of the homeless population. The count is usually recorded in January every two years.

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As a result of COVID-19 concerns, Alameda County will request a waiver not to conduct its biennial, federally mandated count of homeless residents this year.

According to EveryOne Home, an organization aimed at ending homelessness in Alameda County, the count aims to help determine funding, measure changes in the population, improve services, and assess subpopulations including veterans, families, unaccompanied children and more. The data is normally collected through a point-in-time count by EveryOne Home; however, the organization noted concerns due to the current state of the pandemic.

“We explored numerous options. However, at the current rate of COVID-19 spread in Alameda County, we determined that we could not conduct an accurate and reliable count and safeguard the health and safety of Counters and Homeless Guides,” said EveryOne Home staff in an email.

Typically, one night in late January every two years, volunteers, homeless guides and others record the number of people in shelters and transitional housing to estimate the number of people who are unsheltered outdoors.

Andrea Henson, a founder of the homelessness organization Where Do We Go Berkeley and litigation attorney for the Eviction Defense Center, said it was the “right decision” to request to cancel the count this year, as COVID-19 presents a health danger to both volunteers and unhoused individuals.

“We have to take a balanced look at things and how we can help people but still protect our community, and ensure that everyone is following all the requirements to end COVID,” Henson said. “We can’t send all these people on to the community.”

According to EveryOne Home staff, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has indicated no federal funding implications for not conducting the count this year.

Henson said she is hopeful that Alameda County officials will consider the circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and not let funding be affected by the lack of an official count. Henson predicts homelessness will increase due to the pandemic, as more people are unable to pay their rent and the eviction moratorium ends.

“I have to be optimistic because it would be absolutely inhumane to cut funding for homelessness because this count isn’t being taken,” Henson said. “You don’t need to count to see that homelessness is a huge issue and that we have extraordinarily large populations in the Bay Area.”

Data from EveryOne Home indicates that 8,000 people experience homelessness every day in Alameda County, and this number has doubled across the last four years.

If the waiver request is approved, EveryOne Home plans to take an unofficial count when risk levels subside. It would then take an official count in January 2022, as well as the planned January 2023 count and subsequent counts every other year.

Contact Lauren Good at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @lgooddailycal.