Volunteers fan out to count homeless, likely encountering more than ever before

Results from the county’s annual Point-In-Time-Count of people living on the streets, conducted Wednesday, won’t be known for weeks. Most experts expect to see an increase.
Greg Rodriguez, deputy director of government affairs and community engagement for the Riverside County Department of Housing and Workforce Solutions, interviews Chris, an unhoused man, early Wednesday morning in Palm Springs.

Chris and Albert aren’t the typical unhoused Palm Springs residents Greg Rodriguez meets, and that may not bode well for their future.

Both men were among dozens interviewed throughout the city Wednesday morning as part of the annual Point-in-Time Homeless Count, a countywide effort to tally the number of people found living on the streets on a single day. The interviews are voluntary, but allow for greater insight into who those people are, how they got there, and how they can be helped.

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Chris, who occupies one of two dozen tents off Crossley Road near Walmart, is the first person contacted by Rodriguez, deputy director of government affairs and community engagement for the Riverside County Department of Housing and Workforce Solutions. Emerging from his temporary shelter with dog Tiffany in hand just after 6 a.m., he answers a dozen or so questions, telling Rodriguez he has been in Palm Springs for about a year after arriving from Los Angeles via Portland.

A family disruption resulted in the former used vehicle salesman giving up hope and moving to the streets two years ago. He is a fentanyl user who would like help, but won’t abandon his animal companion, who is unwelcome at shelters. As for income, Chris says, “I just pray that I will be taken care of.”

Rodriguez, his hands shaking due to frigid temperatures as he types Chris’s answers on a cell phone, thanks the 32-year-old for his time and promises help is available. He makes sure to give him a business card and asks that he reach out as soon as he charges his cell phone.

Fifty yards to the south, Rodriguez speaks with Albert, who consents to answer questions from inside his tent, maintaining some anonymity. Albert is 63, isn’t a veteran, and laughs when asked if he has sought shelter. Rodriguez knows why the question amuses Albert — he knows it could take years before Albert’s name is called on waiting lists for shelter and some programs.

The issues for both men, Rodriguez later explains, is that neither are among those deemed most urgently in need.

“Chris’s case is especially hard to handle,” Rodriguez says shortly after handing Albert a care package. “He doesn’t fit into any category where we can typically get him immediate assistance. He’s not a senior. He’s not a veteran. And pets are barriers to assistance.”

Chris’s issues with drugs may be another barrier. Too often, Rodriguez said, people Chris’s age “time out” of treatment programs they are either ordered by courts to participate in or agree to attend at the urging of family members. “Young people get into treatment,” Rodriguez says, “but after they’ve been there a while they have to get out, and they don’t follow through.”

Still, Chris’s willingness to seek and accept assistance, is a good sign.

“I have a lot of hope for him,” Rodriguez says before heading to an encampment off Dinah Shore Drive. “I will come back and follow up with him.”

Volunteers check in early Wednesday morning at the Palm Springs Convention Center before heading out to tally the number of people they could find living on city streets.

Just how many people like Chris and Albert were living on the streets Wednesday won’t be known for several weeks. That’s when results from the Point-In-Time-Count will be released. Last year, the data — which helps determine how much federal money the county receives to combat homelessness — showed a 15% increase in the county’s unhoused population and that Palm Springs had more homeless than any other county city outside of Riverside.

Those with experience working with the homeless population here said Wednesday they would not be surprised to see another increase.

While residents have noted fewer people living on the streets downtown — in part due to efforts by police and others to clean encampments and arrest criminals who live there — that doesn’t necessarily mean there has been a reduction in their numbers. Encampments such as the one near Walmart seem to be more common in more places.

A map identifying 28 areas where teams would conduct counts Wednesday morning differs from the map last year, showing more “hot spots” along Sunrise Way and stretching east to an area near the Dinah Shore Bridge.

“It’s sad that each year there’s more,” said Chauncey Thompson, one of roughly 80 volunteers in Palm Springs and an estimated 1,000 in the county who participated in Wednesday’s count.

It was Thompson’s second year volunteering to count. The former candidate for the Desert Healthcare District Board of Directors and treasurer of Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine, said he stepped up because he knows it’s important to get an accurate tally to secure maximum federal funds. Early on during Wednesday’s effort, he had already spotted a notable difference in the people he was counting.

“I’m seeing more races than before,” he said. “The last time it was almost all middle-aged white males.”

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