From left, Plumas Crisis Intervention Program and Grant Compliance Officer Cathy Rahmeyer and Executive Director Johanna Downey work with a client at the resource center in Quincy. Services are available throughout Plumas County. Photo by Victoria Metcalf

Annual homeless count coming in January

What does PIT count do for Plumas County’s population?

“He smells,” said one first-grader about a new student in a classroom.

It was true, the teacher decided as she helped a little boy settle into his first day in a new school.

Eyeing him as she showed him where to hang his jacket, the sleeves of which inched up his thin forearms. The cuffs of that inadequate jacket weren’t just frayed but torn. There was a long vertical tear in the front panel and not for the first time the young teacher wondered where she could find a larger, warmer coat for yet another needy child.

“I had bwekfass!” the new student suddenly explained, a smile lighting up his slightly dirty face, revealing a space where two front teeth were missing.

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“I’m glad,” the teacher told him as she noted that besides a coat he needed to see a dentist. The missing top teeth were normal — half of her students were missing them — but it was the condition of some of the neighboring teeth she glimpsed during the smile that concerned her.

“I eated cweral,” he added. “Wif milk. I don’t get milk wif it at home.”

Home, the teacher realized, was a 1994 mini van packed with what remained of the family’s possessions. She learned that the previous afternoon when she heard she was getting a new student. The grade school was gaining three new enrollees — the new student’s younger brother and an older sister were also signed up.

Home as of that very morning was a motel room, while they awaited more permanent housing. The three children lived with their father, who was looking for work.

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Yes, this is a fictional story but it’s somewhat typical of an all too real problem. It’s a situation that many prefer not to think about, never mind doing something about.

Numbers that mean people

Organizations such as the Plumas Crisis Intervention and Resource Center (PCIRC) make it their business to help the homeless.

PCIRC is a representative of the NorCal Continuum of Care Region, a seven-county homeless consortium that involves Plumas, Sierra, Lassen, Del Norte, Modoc, Siskiyou and Shasta counties. “Many of our programs address homelessness,” said Cathy Rahmeyer, program and grant compliance officer with PCIRC during a recent interview.

As part of the region, PCIRC will be organizing the annual homeless count. This falls under the region’s Point-In-Time efforts that take a day in January to determine an approximate number of homeless individuals living within each county.

Last year, Plumas County’s count realized 53 people or four percent of the total homeless count, according to information shared by Rahmeyer and PCRIC’s Executive Director Johanna Downey. At the beginning of 2019, the local general population stood at 18,966.

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Neighboring Sierra County’s count totaled 11 or 1 percent of the total homeless population. Sierra County’s general population stood at 3,021 in January.

And Lassen County, another close neighbor, had a total count of the homeless at 46. Their population last January was at 32,645.

Siskiyou County had the second highest number in the NorCal region with 244 homeless people counted in a general population of 43,895.

Shasta County, with a larger general population of 178,942, counted 697 last January. That was 56 percent of the total population.

Rounding out the local consortium, Del Norte’s general population was 27,788 with 193 homeless people counted. Modoc had a total of five and a general population of 9,184.While the numbers give each county a snapshot of how many homeless were in each during January, to organizations such as PCIRC the numbers represent people not just a statistic.

And many of the program’s extensive lists of services are designed to help meet the needs of the homeless —a warm shower, a place to wash their clothes, an opportunity to pick up a little food and possibly something to wear, or find a place to stay for a night or two, or more permanently.

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“Each program has intensive case management to create greater relationships,” Rahmeyer said about PCIRC services.

To help establish its programs, PCIRC works closely with the Plumas County Community Development, social services, mental health and others. Together they can offer more complete assistance to meet the needs of each person.

Through PIT and the NorCal Continuum of Care, PCIRC is linked with the state, and through the federal Housing and Urban Development program more commonly known as HUD.

Point-In-Time purpose

The Shasta County Community Action Agency is the lead in the NorCal Continuum of Care program, according to Rahmeyer.

With information from the annual January count, a more in-depth look at the area’s homelessness situation is produced.

And what the count does, is provide each county with a snapshot of homeless not only for January but a way to compare statistics with each other, but also other regions within the state.

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The goal of the annual PIT report  “is to educate the community elected officials, community stakeholders on the NorCal Continuum of Care’s homeless population in hopes of improving community awareness and to provide data for local decisions,” Rahmeyer explained.

Through direction from HUD representatives, regions such as the NorCal Continuum of Care are to conduct a PIT study in communities where vulnerable and chronically homeless people can make up a beginning data point for that year, but assist agencies in providing immediate care.

While care can include more temporary services, its overall goal is to provide rapid re-housing, transitional housing or permanent housing to those in need. “The PIT helps HUD and local Continuum of Cares to understand the number and characteristics of homeless individuals sleeping in shelters or on the street or other places not meant for human habitation,” Rahmeyer explained about the survey.

The one-night in January count provides unduplicated numbers of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people.

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January is chosen for the count and for interviews with the homeless because it can provide a more precise count of those outside shelters. It also provides state and federal agencies involved in collecting that data time to respond with additional information or valuable resources.

Plumas County offers a women’s shelter (under Plumas Rural Services), typically for domestic violence victims.

It also offers the Ohana House through PCIRC that is designed for emergency and transitional housing for young adults. During 2018-19 this program provided services to 18 residents, according to statistics from Rahmeyer.

Also in Plumas County is the Pathways Home for those transitioning from jail back into the community. This program offers housing in the form of stays at a motel for a short time, assisting with a deposit for a rental and rent assistance, as well as a utility deposit and other assistance.

It also involves additional wrap around services as determined to meet the needs of each participant. “The program served 117 individuals and family members during the 2018-19 service year,” Rahmeyer said.

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CalWorks through the state and Plumas County’s Social Services Department provides homeless services and access to housing for eligible families with children. “The program managed 24 cases including 33 adults and 51 children during a six-month period from Jan. 1 to June 30,” of this year Rahmeyer also explained.

Housing is frequently a piece of the problem parents face when attempting to get their children back, Rahmeyer said. The system won’t allow children to return to their parents if they don’t have some type of recognized housing to offer them.

Rahmeyer said that during the first year of the joint program they served 10 families, but the numbers have increased since that time. “It’s a real eye-opener,” Downer said.

PCIRC also worked with 75 victims of the 2018 Camp Fire that struck Paradise and its surrounding region. “We provided emergency motel sheltering, food, hygiene supplies, clothing, blankets, gas cards, food and restaurant cards and peer and grief counseling,” Downey said.

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“Fire victims, and any victim of trauma, often suffer from many triggers and take a long time to gain a calm state and re-adjust,” she said. “They need all the support we can give them.”

“All clients have access to my cell phone 24/7 so they can feel that safety-net of services any time they need support,” Downey said. “Camp Fire victims continue to present themselves for services.”

The 24/7 Dad program isn’t necessarily a homeless program, but it’s one that could help provide additional services to those with many needs. Parenting classes are offered inside the Plumas County Sheriff’s Correctional Center, and co-parenting classes are also offered at PCIRC.

During the last fiscal year, the 24/7 Dad program held 166 classes to 175 participants. Twenty-five graduated from this program.

While PIT paves the way for both regional and local accounting of the homeless, the data that is collected is valuable as a measure for how the community or county resolves the issue. It also gives the state and federal government an idea of the scope of the problem so that departments can better determine funding.

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PIT is accompanied by a Housing Inventory Count. This provides the number of beds that are available within a given area.

Who is homeless?

Definitions of the homeless have changed over recent years.

Those included in January’s PIT count include an unsheltered homeless person or household that is living in an area that is not designed for housing. This includes cars, parks, sidewalks, abandoned buildings or even the street. Here in Plumas County it could also include the woods or forest or a campground that is closed.

A sheltered homeless person refers to someone or family that is supervised publicly or privately in a shelter designed for temporary living (this includes transitional housing, hotels and motels paid for by charitable organization or by federal, state or local programs.

Locally, PCIRC has requested that the Board of Supervisors include a dedicated parking area where the homeless could live in their vehicles while awaiting permanent housing. They also requested that tiny homes be included in the county’s general plan. Although PCIRC wasn’t successful in its attempt to become part of the housing framework, they continue to plan.

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In 2018, guidelines for reporting changes of those in domestic violence shelters underwent revision. The data reported on survivors of domestic violence are now limited to reporting on those who are currently experiencing homelessness because they are fleeing domestic violence (or related situation) and must leave a home.

Regional statistics

Within the seven-county continuum of care conducted Jan. 22 and 30, 1,249 homeless individuals were counted. That represents a nine percent increase from the previous year.

Looking back, 1,149 were counted in 2018, 934 in 2017, and 1272 in 2016.

Of that number, this year, 443 were sheltered and 806 were unsheltered. This was the first time that all seven counties participated in the count. Who did not participate wasn’t included in the annual report.

Information on household types was also gathered in January. Households with at least one adult and one child saw a total of 48 households and 170 individuals, in the seven-county area.

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Households with no children totaled 991 with 1,076 individuals.

Households with only children totaled 81 households and 85 individuals.

Looking at numbers of unsheltered individuals in the seven-county region, males were far more likely to be living outside a shelter than females.

Of the 65 percent found unsheltered 522 were male. Female made up 32 percent totally 261 of the total population included. One percent was transgender, totaling two people. And two percent or 21 people didn’t respond to the question.

Of the same unsheltered group, one percent or 11 people were under 18 years old.

Eight percent or 68 were between the ages of 18 and 24.

Eighty-six percent of 687 were between the ages of 25 to 54, and only one percent or nine people were 55 to 61. Those 62 years old and older accounted for one percent or 10 people.

In the seven-county region, white people were by far the majority. They made up 78 percent or 630 of the unsheltered population.

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Although the study placed black or African-Americans as second at five percent or 37 people, statistics revealed that American Indian/Alaskan Native made up 10 percent of the unsheltered population with 77 people included.

By far the most people included in the count were those who were in some kind of outdoor encampment. This made up 32 percent or 260 people.

Those who were living on the streets or chose a sidewalk totaled 16 percent of the study or 134 people.

Both Downey and Rahmeyer have learned a lot when it comes to finding the homeless and getting them services. “Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not here,” Rahmeyer said.

Local situational causes often include seasonal employment opportunities and whether an individual or a family can afford housing.

And then there are the numbers that make up the offender population. A family could lose its housing when a father or mother is incarcerated. The same proves true with individuals. Most landlords aren’t sympathetic to someone’s concerns when they land in jail and can’t pay the rent, especially when months are involved.

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There are also a lot of barriers to people getting housing, Rahmeyer explained. PCIRC is highly successful when it comes to getting a parolee or someone on probation housing.

“And kudos to the mill (Sierra Pacific Industries) for not holding criminal histories against the individual,” Downey added. Other employment opportunities include the Dollar Tree and the new Grocery Outlet in Quincy.

“If everybody works together we rebuild families who give back to the community,” Rahmeyer said. “And they give back!”

Downey said that PCIRC worked to get one individual a job at the mill. That person then took a load of wood to a veteran with cancer. “And those things happen quietly here,” she added.

For more information on the 2019 study, or for services contact PCIRC at 283-5515.