Fresno, Madera volunteers join 3-day homeless count

The Fresno BeeJanuary 28, 2014 

Volunteers fanned out across Fresno on Tuesday trying to put the region's homeless population into perspective with the start of a three-day count.

The Fresno/Madera Continuum of Care, which helps the homeless with housing and services, partnered with the local Veteran Affairs office to take on the 2014 Homeless Point in Time Count and Survey. The count is required of Continuum of Care agencies by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Trained volunteers -- mostly local nonprofit employees -- canvass shelters, streets, city parks, libraries and motels. They're searching for anyone who fits HUD's definition for homelessness: the lack of a permanent, adequate and affordable place to live.

The survey tries to define who is homeless, why they're homeless and what services are needed, said Jody Ketcheside, board chair of the local continuum and a homeless advocate for more than seven years.

"There's people that have been released from jail; there's the general population of people that just lost their jobs; there's people with mental illnesses; there's people with substance abuse; there's youth on the street. They are all coming from different walks of life," she said.

The results will be out in two to three months. Ketcheside predicted the results will mirror last year, when volunteers recorded 3,131 homeless.

Tuesday's work included a count around the Poverello House in downtown Fresno.

Justin Lamb, a VA social worker, was walking near G and Ventura streets when he met Ricardo Montez and his friend "Condor." Montez, 57, who was sitting next to three shopping carts, told Lamb he was a Vietnam veteran and had been on the streets for more than 20 years.

"You see things out here you don't want to see," Montez said.

What about living in a shelter?

"It's not my style," Montez answered.

Others including Maria Ruiz find refuge at the Poverello House. Ruiz, 54, said she has been homeless for seven years and hopes one day she can live a "normal life."

"They're just people that are in a bad situation," Lamb said. "We're finding more about them as people not just as a general population."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6659, or @DianaT_Aguilera on Twitter.

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