Despite a three-year delay in counting Orange County’s homeless population due to the pandemic, organizers of this year’s census of transients said Friday the work was “really smooth.”
“I think the takeaway for me is it was a really smooth event,” Doug Becht, director of Orange County’s Office of Care Coordination, said in a conference call with reporters Friday.
“What stuck with me was… when (volunteers) engaged with the individuals out on the streets these folks were interested in engaging and services and sharing their stories.”
Last year’s count was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. This year’s count was delayed by a month because of the Omicron-variant surge.
Officials are confident they got an accurate count.
“Most importantly, we conducted it in a way that I’m sure the results that come out of this point in time count will be accurate,” Becht said.
Matt Bates, vice president of City Net, which facilities services for homeless individuals for Orange County, said the cold spell and rainy weather helped bring home how tough it is on the streets.
“There is a newfound empathy for how difficult it is to be homeless,” Bates said.
Volunteer recruitment turned out to be good enough.
“We would have liked a larger turnout,” Becht said. “We did have a smaller turnout than we expected. For most people it was the first public event to volunteer for at this scale since the pandemic. It is somewhat understandable.
“Fortunately, with Matt’s team and other providers we were ready to handle a low turnout.”
Becht said it will be tricky discerning trends because of the long layoff from counting the homeless population.
“Every chance you miss it it makes it a little more difficult to point to trends or see what’s happening,” Becht said.
Becht and Bates declined to speculate on whether the homeless population is up or down.
“We’re not comfortable at the moment to forecast where the results will land,” Becht said. “There’s still a lot of validation that has to go on.”
However, the ramping up of shelter beds and services to the area’s homeless, coupled with assistance during the pandemic from the state and federal governments, has helped encourage more transients to engage with social workers, Becht said.