Homeless census is sensitive, vital community exercise

Homeless census is sensitive, vital community exercise
Volunteers conduct a homeless census Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, at the St. Vincent de Paul Center, 300 Baker St., in Bakersfield, Calif. (David Andrew Price/BakersfieldNow.com)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Volunteers roamed the streets and set up census centers Thursday, taking count of the homeless population around Kern County.

The annual count is a snapshot of homelessness over a 24-hour period and is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in exchange for federal homeless funds. Last year's census turned up 1,439 homeless people.

Homeless people were invited to the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store & Charity Center in Bakersfield. There, volunteer census-takers offered care packages in exchange for participation in a short survey.

Census information was also collected at The Mission at Kern County shelter and the Bakersfield Homeless Center.

Juan Garcia, director of the Clinica Sierra Vista Lifeline Project, said most of the homeless community is happy to answer a few generic questions in exchange for their care packages, and plenty of them understand the impact the census has on the shelters that provide them with food and care.

However, some of the homeless community is none too happy with the attention garnered from the event by local news media.

"It's just rude. We don't come into your house and take pictures of you," one homeless man told a BakersfieldNow.com photographer.

Some of the homeless men and women acted open to being photographed and interviewed by the media covering the census, but others seem guarded. After taking the survey, one homeless man requested to be "put on TV," while his wife hid her face from the cameras.

"We want the media to be able to raise awareness of the event, but we don't want to disrespect the privacy of the homeless or, worse, scare them away from taking the survey," said Jan Lemucchi, director of communications and marketing for the United Way of Kern County.

The Kern County Homeless Collaborative hopes the census will provide local charity and shelter agencies in Kern County with $4 million in funds for 2013.