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Count reveals growth in county homelessness
62 homeless people in Ceres
Homeless encampments in downtown Turlock overlooked by statue of Thomas Mitchell perched on prosperity. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/ Courier file photo

The homeless population in Stanislaus County grew by an estimated 21 percent over the last year, according to the results of a countywide count conducted earlier this year.

The two-day point in time count conducted in January tallied 1,408 homeless individuals, up from the 1,156 recorded in 2014 and 1,201 in 2013.

The homeless count by city (or town), in order of largest to smallest are as follows: Modesto, 983; Turlock, 186; Oakdale, 70; Ceres, 62; Patterson, 61; Riverbank, 12; Empire, 12; Hughson, 8; and Keyes, 7.

The count was conducted for the Stanislaus Housing and Support Services Collaborative at the behest of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which stipulates the count be done on a routine basis as part of their funding application. Stanislaus County typically gets around $3.3 million in Supportive Housing Program funds from HUD, which are used for housing needs, both permanent and temporary, as well as case management services, said Aaron Farnon, the deputy director of the area's Continuum of Care organization that participates in the count.

The volunteers participating in the count visited shelters around the county, including the Turlock Gospel Mission and We Care. From there the volunteers spread out to the county's parks, libraries, day centers and other areas where the homeless may spend their days. The count uses a questionnaire that takes about five to 10 minutes to complete to avoid any one person being counted multiple times. A total of 892 questionnaires were collected from emergency shelters, transitional housing programs and street count locations.

The count is considered a point in time representation and can have some variations. The population numbers can vary depending on what definition an organization uses to define homelessness. For example, the Stanislaus County Office of Education uses the term homelessness to include anyone staying in someone else's home for an extended time, Farnon said.

"The numbers can change, because it really depends on the definition that you are using," Farnon said. "But it is a good indicator of the chronically homeless."

The organization expected the number to be slightly higher this year because for the first time counts were being conducted in Hughson, Denair, Waterford and Hickman.

Of the 1,408 individuals identified as homeless, 6.7 percent said they had children that were also homeless. Another 8.7 percent said they were veterans.

Approximately 69 percent of the homeless were men and 31 percent were women. One respondent said they were transgender.

Fifty-eight of the respondents said they did not drink alcohol and 63 percent said they did not use drugs. About 42 percent said they had some form of mental illness and 34 percent said they had some form of physical disability.

The majority of the respondents said they lived in a Stanislaus County city prior to becoming homeless. Some respondents came from other communities, including Los Angeles (7), San Jose (16), Stockton (16), Sacramento (11) and Merced (9). Most of the respondents said they had lived in Modesto (334) and Turlock (69).