Volunteers Take Part in Census to Help Government Track Homelessness


SAN MATEO, CA. – In the dark, damp, and cold of the predawn on a recent Thursday, more than 240 volunteers left their own warm beds indoors to fan out throughout San Mateo County searching for those who had spent the entire night outdoors with no beds.

Rodney Roberson (left) and Chris Wahl check out a creek bed looking for homeless encampments.

It was a scenario that has been played out nationwide, as local governments and homeless groups tackle the 2011 national homeless census. The process undertaken once every two years in the last couple of weeks in January and early February helps the entities figure out what services are needed, as well as provide a benchmark for how programs helping the homeless are doing.

At 6 a.m. on Jan. 27 at San Mateo City Hall, one of 12 “deployment centers” that day, volunteers received their final instructions before heading out into the darkness. They were told safety first: don’t attempt to speak to people found out on the streets. Don’t worry about the exact count, there are formulas to figure out the results. And “zero” is a valid report.

Small groups of three and four people headed out in cars to their assigned census tracts. Each group had a “homeless guide”, someone who is currently homeless and staying in a shelter or transitional housing.

The director of San Mateo County’s Center for Homelessness, Wendy Goldberg said that by pairing volunteers with homeless people on the census, it helps put a face on homelessness.

“I think it’s a golden opportunity for people to learn about homelessness in the county,” she said.



  1. Bill Perry says:

    Check out the story in this Sunday’s Mercury News about a possible path out of homelessness.
    It involves hiring the homeless to clear out the Coyote Creek and return for housing.

  2. pammarino says:

    Thanks! I did see that story.


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