We All Count

At 4am, on Friday morning January 27th, hundreds of volunteers left deployment centers throughout San Diego County to count homeless people. Called, “We All Count,” this annual enumeration of homeless people in the county is run by the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless.

Beginning in 2005, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has mandated that, agencies receiving HUD funding needed to count the homeless people in their cities on a bi-annual basis. One of the goals of this point in time count is to provide a snap shot of homelessness during the last week of January every two years. The results of this count are used to justify the funds being sent to the recipient agencies to help homeless people within their cities.

A homeless friend and I were two of these enumerators. We drove up and down designated streets and alleys of Ocean Beach, San Diego, counting homeless individuals and vehicles potentially housing individuals. The third category we could have counted were “hand-built structures,” but we did not see any during our drive.

During our over two-hour drive in Ocean Beach, we counted over 60 homeless individuals and 100 vehicles which were potentially housing individuals.

Although the count may sound very dry to some of us, I was touched by a number of things we saw. For example, in one alley, we saw a carport where four homeless individuals were sleeping a person-apart from each other. They were sleeping on the cement with apparently no ground cover and no blankets.

Currently, volunteers, including myself and my homeless friend, are conducting surveys of homeless people on behalf of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless. These surveys are intended to ask those people who were homeless on the same morning as the count specific questions eliciting personal information about them, questions about what are their sources of support and questions about why they are homeless. In return for answering the over 100 questions presented to them, the homeless person receives a $10 gift card to Subway. All surveys are intended to be completed with days of the count.

Homelessness is a reality that is challenging for me to fathom, especially seeing homelessness up-close, here in America, the land of plenty.

Image Credit: MLF.org


  1. Thank you for sharing this reflection, Dr. Schanes. I'll be really interested to see the research you're working on when it's released. I just relocated, but when I was living in Dallas I used to teach yoga to men and women at a homeless shelter in our city every Thursday night. The people that came to that class represented so many different walks of life, so many unique journeys that had led them to their current circumstance. So many people that until that point I really had no seen.

    Many of us, I think, are brought up to believe certain stereotypes (they're all addicts, lazy, criminals, or whatever) about homeless people, but when you actually stand in the presence of that "other" human being and see them in their humanity, you realize… Wow, this man could be my father. This woman could be my mother. This kid could have been me. That, to me, is where the opportunity for change happens. When we see the people in our community and recognize their like-ness to ourselves, we are (hopefully) motivated to do our part to help shift the underlying sociopolitical dynamics that cause poverty to begin with.

  2. Christine Schanes is an amazing woman who supports social justice and equitable access to resources. She does an amazing job advocating for unsheltered people.