Laura Reynolds, 45, hopped out of a car Wednesday night on G Street just north of Ventura Avenue in downtown Fresno, and crossed over to the other side, where she approached a man resting on the cold sidewalk.
The man said he knew her, but she couldn’t remember who he was.
Wearing an orange vest and with a computer tablet in hand, Reynolds began explaining why she was there. Once she sat down next to him, she asked the man a personal question: “Where did you sleep last night?”
The man, bearded with long hair that covered his face, was identified as M.L. He couldn’t initially remember where he slept, but said it was somewhere around Chinatown.
M.L. then began talking about other things, like how his feet hurt and how someone told him he looked like a caveman. Reynolds slowly eased in more questions as she filled out a survey on her tablet.
“I let them lead me,” Reynolds said. “He already trusted me because he’s already seen me.”
She was planning to meet with people like M.L. until midnight.
Reynolds was one of about 140 volunteers who hit the streets in Fresno and Madera counties as part of an annual survey of homelessness in the community. The Fresno Madera Continuum of Care event kicked off Tuesday and is one of several collaborations throughout the nation involved in counting the number of homeless people in the community as well as gathering information on their situations.
The two-night and one-day “point in time” count will give the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development an estimate of how many people are known to be homeless so funds can be distributed to the nonprofit agencies that serve such people.
“The goal is to give them an accurate count so that they can determine funding,” said Mary Ann Knoy, 36, who was surveying as part of WestCare Foundation in Fresno.
Knoy said she never knows what she will find on days she goes out for surveys. She explained that one group on Tuesday evening found a homeless person whose partner was unconscious inside a dumpster. That person was taken to the hospital.
Reynolds was working for Turning Point of Central California, a referral program that aids anyone needing help to get their lives back on track. She said getting to talk to people like M.L. makes her feel like she’s accomplished a mission.
“It makes my heart feel so full that I could cry,” she said. “I walked away super excited.”
As M.L. prepared to spend another night on the chilly, not-so-quiet streets of downtown Fresno, he received a care package from the survey volunteers that included food – at least for the night.
The volunteers spent Tuesday scouting the streets and jotting down where and how many homeless people they saw. On Wednesday, they revisited those same spots and some new areas to conduct the surveys.
One man setting up a tent along G Street didn’t want to be surveyed. A woman inside the tent also declined. But Reynolds said they were both counted in Tuesday’s tally. When surveyors arrive, they first ask the homeless person if they’ve already been counted before proceeding with a survey, where they are sometimes asked who else is staying with them.
“Household (in the survey) defines who is with them as family,” Reynolds said. “Household is not like four walls; it’s how many are we going to be talking to here.”
The volunteers went out again Thursday, this time from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
A report on what the volunteers find is expected to be compiled in March and released to the public in April.