Homeless tents on set up on 16th Street in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

The Regional Taskforce on the Homeless will not conduct its 2021 annual Point-in-Time Count of unsheltered San Diegans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was announced Tuesday.

According to the RTFH, a typical Point-in-Time Count requires nearly 1,600 volunteers due to the size and population of San Diego County. It is typically conducted in mid-January.

The decision was grounded in concerns for the safety and well-being of individuals experiencing homelessness, volunteers and RTFH staff, according to the task force, which cited surging coronavirus case numbers, stay-at-home orders and the need for close interactions to conduct the survey.

The region’s Continuum of Care was granted an exception by the Department of Housing and Urban Development this week.

“With stay-at-home orders and all of the other constraints that exist, many of the CoC across California are opting not to conduct unsheltered census this year,” said Tamera Kohler, CEO of the RTFH.

“Collecting accurate, useful data is in the interest of everyone, but because we cannot complete this safely, it is in the best interest of all involved to not conduct the count. Fortunately, we have a wealth of other data that we rely on that represents the true picture of people in our community experiencing unsheltered homelessness,” Kohler said.

The task force is responsible for collecting, tracking and reporting on a significant amount of data as it pertains to homelessness in San Diego County. While a census of sheltered individuals, as well as the Housing Inventory Count, will still take place, the unsheltered PITC, which is a one- day snapshot of who is experiencing unsheltered homelessness in the region, will not.

“I understand and support the Regional Task Force’s need to cancel the 2021 Point-in-Time Count,” said San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, who has volunteered during the annual survey for several years. “As mayor, my decisions will be driven by data and best practices.

“The coordinated systems that the city and the region have built are continually improving and providing better and better information,” he said. “I believe we can use these systems to mitigate the loss of the 2021 count data. I will not allow this to hamper our efforts to connect people experiencing homelessness to much-needed housing and support services.”

In preparing the waiver request, the task force consulted with HUD and other Continuum of Care regions across Southern California. Of the 13 peer CoC in Southern California, 12 are asking for the same exemption and the majority — including the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority and the Orange County Continuum of Care — have already received approval from HUD.

“Every year, the Point In Time Count relies on hundreds of county employee volunteers to successfully complete the unsheltered count,” said county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. “This year, taking into account public health considerations, it is safer for volunteers, staff and those experiencing homelessness to limit the kind of interaction that the unsheltered count requires. This exception is the right choice for this year.”

–City News Service

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