The usually quiet San Jose roads were taken over at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday morning by 115 people scouring the city, looking for homeless residents to count as part of the two-day Santa Clara County Point-In-Time homeless census.
At this hour roadways are generally steady moving without congestion, and most homeless people sleeping on the streets have found their place to camp overnight. Those counting homeless people are instructed by census organizers with Applied Survey Research to count by observation only.
According to the 2017 census, San Jose’s homeless population reached more than 4,300, which was the third highest the number had been since 2004. About three-quarters of that population was unsheltered, and most of those surveyed said they’d been homeless before.
Rodney Moy, 57, was a paid guide for the census, and hopped into a Toyota Rav4 and listened to classic rock on XM radio with Anne Browne, 27, and her fiancé Mike Laskey, 28, who were volunteers for the morning.
Browne, who works for HomeFirst, said her organization’s federal funding is determined by the census data. Browne and Laskey moved to San Jose about six months ago.
“We got jobs here,” Laskey said. “It’s definitely a change of pace.”
They’re still adjusting to the area and trying to engrain themselves into their community. During the homeless count, they went to areas of the city they’d never been before — through neighborhoods that don’t look like theirs near Willow Glen.
“Especially since we’re new, we’re trying to get involved in our community,” Browne said.
Moy had seen these areas before. His expertise in homelessness comes from about 15 years of sleeping on the streets throughout the Bay Area. But that was 10 years ago, and he now lives in Santa Clara.
“It was a lot of mental things, and family,” Moy said. “I’m just trying to give back.”
He got back on his feet with help from Downtown Streets Team, who paid stipends and gift cards to Moy for his labor while providing employment training and housing assistance. After a while working for the organization,”if you do it long enough, you find out it’s not enough to live off of,” but “they give you opportunity to get your game up.”
Moy got his game up and now he works for HomeFirst in Sunnyvale. And he’s no longer homeless.
And around they went on Tuesday before the break of dawn.
They had a few miles around the Seven Trees Community Center to cover, west of Senter Road and south of Coyote Creek. Atfirst, their count was “quiet as a church-house mouse,” Moy said. They didn’t find any homeless people, though they found a handful of campers, RVs and vans.
But as they neared restaurants and shopping centers and pointedly, dumpsters, the higher their count grew. By the end of their sweep of the area, they counted eight people, 12 tents and 12 RVs and vans — all of which are put in different categories that Applied Survey Research uses to average data and come up with an accurate count.
The closer the morning stretched into dawn, the higher the count grew. By 8 a.m. the streets were getting busier. San Jose was awake. Roadways were active and traffic backed up on Highway 101.
Moy said it’s common to see a homeless camp beneath a highway, specifically wedged in the corner of the underpass, elevated above the ground. They parked and found he was right They added the numbers to the count, packed up and went back to base at the Salvation Army Emmanuel House at 405 N. 4th Street.
The trio all had to go to work at their day jobs after the count.
Before their deployment, at 4:30 a.m., Mayor Sam Liccardo linked up with the count to lend a hand and send off teams with a few words.
“Everyone counts,” Liccardo said. “Too often we know we’re missing too many of our neighbors who are on the streets and in the parks, and we simply don’t see them.”
He thanked those who signed up to help, and stressed the importance of the census data. Liccardo said he wants to figure out “what’s working, and what’s not working” from the new numbers.
“We know we’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said.
The second day of the Point-In-Time count begins Wednesday at 4:30 a.m. Results from the census will not be available until this summer.
Contact Kyle Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @Kyle_Martin35 on Twitter.