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Friday, February 20, 2009

Look San Francisco! Somebody Knows a Better Way To Count the Homeless

Posted By on Fri, Feb 20, 2009 at 6:02 PM


A couple of weeks ago, I went on the homeless count and came to the conclusion that it was a total sham. People posted comments on the blog, asking how the count could be improved, and here's the ticket, folks: instead of trying to figure out if a person is homeless by care-bear stare, just ask. As scary as that sounds, it turns out they do it in a bigger, arguably scarier city than ours.

This week's New Yorker includes a Talk of the Town piece from Jeffrey Toobin that gives some details of New York City's Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE). Their count involved two thousand volunteers who set out in groups of four to six, and their surverys required that they ask questions of each person they encountered. The big question: "Tonight, do you have some place that you consider to be your home or a place where you live?"    

In New York, the counters are also instructed to offer shelter to every homeless person they meet. Yeah, it's much colder in NYC around this time, but you'd think that friendly San Francisco would be ready to offer something, anything, to it's least fortunate during the homeless count. Instead, our homeless just get a raised eyebrow from a stranger at a distance, trying to decide what box to check.

Photo | James Fischer

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Ashley Harrell


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