Volunteers and government employees ventured out to encampments and shelters in Santa Clara County before daybreak Tuesday to begin counting homeless people living in the county.
The two-day count, and a follow-up survey next week, are parts of a biennial Santa Clara County Homeless Census and Survey to tally the number of homeless people and learn about who they are and how they live, said Lynn Terzian, a county homeless program analyst.
The count allows the county to better provide services, and is also required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in order for the county to receive federal funds to combat homelessness.
Local governments are sharing the costs of the comprehensive survey, organized by Applied Survey Research, a nonprofit that did the county's last count in 2011 and similar surveys for Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, Terzian said.
"This is a collaboration between 15 cities and the county itself," Terzian said. "Everybody chips in and pays their portion."
The count involves Applied Survey staff, plus city and county employees and about 250 homeless guides and volunteers who are performing head counts today and Wednesday, Terzian said.
"It's a huge, huge, endeavor," she said. Volunteers, who attended a one-hour training class, are set to work four to six hours today and Wednesday starting at 6 a.m.
The group is heading out early while the homeless are still asleep or before they have left shelters in order to avoid double-counting them later, Terzian said.
Often, the tallying has the census takers leaning over people wrapped in sleeping bags or blankets to see what sex they are and what approximate age group they are in, Terzian said. "They're just trying to figure out if they are male, female, or youth," she said.
"They never touch them. They don't engage them at all." "It's called a survey because you can't count every person," Terzian said.
"It's impossible." The county pays homeless people who have been trained as guides to assist in locating and surveying the homeless, Terzian said.
In January 2011, the survey located 7,067 homeless individuals -- defined as people who lack a fixed or adequate place of nighttime residence -- in the county, the county reported. Of those counted, 69 percent were male. Thirty-nine percent were Caucasian, 31 percent Hispanic and 17 percent African-American.
The 2011 figure was down only 19 people from the 7,086 homeless counted in 2009.