About 500 people gathered in Palo Alto and other cities within Santa Clara County this week to conduct the biennial point-in-time count of homeless individuals.
The data is used to determine how much money the county needs to end a homelessness crisis in the region, and is organized by the county Office of Supportive Housing.
Continuum of Care manager Kathryn Kaminski said between 300 and 400 volunteers this year were joined by 100 guides, or individuals who work with homeless populations or have been recently homeless.
The count began at 4 a.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday in San Jose, Palo Alto, Gilroy and Mountain View. It's held early in the morning to include individuals in shelters before they are released for the day, and to ensure there isn't too much movement in and out of encampments.
Mayor Sam Liccardo attended the point-in-time count in San Jose and said the volunteer-based program is a vital census tool for determining resources throughout the year. According to Liccardo, law enforcement agencies stopped encampment sweeps in the recent weeks to ensure an accurate count.
"I'm grateful to the hundreds of volunteers who woke up before dawn to join us in this morning's biennial homeless count," Liccardo said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.
In late December, community members held a vigil for 157 homeless individuals who died in the county over the previous year. The numbers have steadily risen over the last decade, along with the homeless population. The 2017 point-in-time count found 7,394 unsheltered and sheltered homeless individuals.
This year's count will be combined with results from 900 surveys distributed by guides in the following weeks. The survey includes questions regarding how an individual became homeless, how long they've been living on the streets and the challenges they face in various settings.
Kaminski said the survey typically has a high response rate because it is distributed by paid volunteers who are either members of the homeless community, or those who conduct year-round outreach.
"They're already building those relationships," Kaminski said. "They're not just random volunteers who are doing the surveys."
The county will spend the next several months analyzing the data, ensuring there is no double-counting and will present the final report in late June.