For three days last week, cities nationwide conducted a simultaneous survey to determine the number of homeless in each community. Locally, this survey was coordinated through the Fresno/Madera Continuum of Care, with the purpose of determining the allocation of financial resources for low-income housing through the Housing and Urban Development program.
Last year, 51 were counted as Mountain Area homeless. However, Michael Baird, survey coordinator for Eastern Madera County, estimated there were actually closer to 100 living in the area.
“This year, the number of homeless is right around 44,” Baird said.
He attributes the lower number to several factors. Because of the homeless apartments in Oakhurst, there are seven less living on the streets. A few of the homeless are incarcerated, and a handful have left the area, or are staying with family or friends. Baird also knows of eight individuals who are currently homeless, but were not located during the count.
Even so, taking these factors into account, Baird contends the final tally is not a fair representation of the actual number of homeless living in the Mountain Area.
“I believe we got a fairly accurate count of everyone that is the more stereotypical homeless- living in tents, on the streets,” Baird continued. “I still believe the count of individuals who are technically homeless in this area is very underrepresented. There are a lot of people living up here in the mountains in trailers and buildings without running water, electricity, heat or sewer that would qualify as homeless under HUD’s definition. I was able to count about a dozen folks living in these sort of situations, but I get the sense that there are significantly more.
“You just wouldn’t necessarily ever recognize them as being homeless on the streets ... they are so dispersed and spread out throughout the Mountain Area, it is nearly impossible to find them for surveys.”
Both Madera and Fresno counties have seen a decrease in the overall numbers of homeless. HUD estimates a 34% reduction in total homelessness between 2014 and 2015, and a 60% decrease over the last five years in both counties.