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Preparing for their 4 a.m. wake-up call next Friday, a roomful of volunteers met downtown last night to learn the basics about the region’s upcoming tally of unsheltered homeless people. Similar trainings are happening throughout the county this week for more than 700 volunteers.

Count organizer Dania Brett said her group, the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, will deploy counters to more than 500 of the county’s 605 U.S. Census tracts to count individuals, cars with people sleeping in them and hand-built structures like cardboard boxes, shopping carts with tarps draped over them and tents.

Partner groups will do special searches in the county’s canyons and places where unsheltered youth are known to sleep, Brett said. “But we can’t cover every canyon, and we can’t cover every inch of the river beds,” she said.

Turns out, planning the count is also a remarkable lesson in San Diego geography.

“Because we have so many canyons, because we have over 4,000 square miles to cover, because over half of that is rural, there are a lot of challenges,” she said. “But it’s worth the effort.”

Every community in the country that receives any federal funding to combat homelessness must do this count every other year. San Diego chooses to do the count annually. We looked in more detail at the count and its inherent difficulty in this post. The group isn’t taking any more volunteers for this year’s count.

Stay tuned: We’ll be heading out with a team next Friday for the count, and we’ll be explaining how the region calculates its homeless population in an episode of San Diego Explained, airing Wednesday. I’ll also be appearing Sunday morning on Gene Cubbison’s “Politically Speaking,” airing on NBC7 San Diego at 9 a.m.

Meanwhile, here are a few links that caught my eye this week:

• Orange County’s Board of Supervisors approved purchasing a furniture store in Fullerton to convert into a permanent shelter for the homeless. (Orange County Register)

• A new shelter for single women and families is opening soon in Vista. The United Methodist Church in Vista gave the Operation Hope organization $300,000 toward purchasing the buildings that were previously part of a community clinic. The cities of Oceanside and Vista pitched in $100,000 and $250,000, respectively. (U-T)

• Downtown’s check-in center, a lot in East Village where people can lock up belongings and shopping carts for the day while they take the bus or look for work, began as a response to a legal battle over whether police could confiscate and destroy the belongings of homeless people. It’s faced some difficulties finding a permanent location. For the time being, the check-in center is located at 16th Street and Commercial Avenue, a space donated by Father Joe’s Villages. The Girls Think Tank group runs the center.

CityBeat’s Kelly Davis shared audio from her chat with Danny McCray, who talked about the line of people he sees when he opens the gate at 7 a.m.

McCray was homeless himself. He said he feels compelled to tell people, “If you keep hanging in, you’re going to be OK.”

My heart is not going to let this be a cycle. Some of the homeless agencies, they’re cycles. They bring you in and feed you — no kind of encouragement. You eat a little bit and you go back out and it’s the same process. Come back again, year-round.

That’s not progress. You have to key in — what is the problem? What I found out is it’s the dignity. People want to feel good about themselves. That makes you want to do something for yourself. So it’s the added service, not just giving them a bin. We also encourage them. You’re much better than ‘being homeless’ — that doesn’t dictate who you are.

• A longtime homelessness services advocate quibbled with the sentiment that providers in San Diego don’t work well together. Bronwyn Ingram, Mayor Bob Filner’s fiancée, said she wanted to help nonprofits work together in a recent U-T profile.

“While I welcome the interest of the mayor’s fiancee in addressing the difficult challenges that homelessness creates in our community, the old shibboleth that homeless services providers do not get along is simply not true,” wrote Rosemary Johnston, director of the region’s Interfaith Shelter Network, in a letter to the editor.

“Some of these organizations have been working to reduce homelessness for almost three decades here. We’re better together and we know that.”

• The recent cold snap meant social service groups were giving out blankets and coats faster than they were coming in. (KFMB)

• In Encinitas, a woman mobilized a blanket and coat drive in honor of her late uncle, who recently died in a park in Carlsbad. (U-T)

• A California research and policy group gathered stories about agencies making dents in youth homelessness and drew targets for what can be done to lessen it further in the state. The report is called “More than a Roof: How California Can End Youth Homelessness.”

The group estimates more than 200,000 young Californians under the age of 18, and thousands more 18- to 24-year-olds, are homeless at least one day during the year.

In San Diego County, the County Office of Education uses this definition to measuring how many students are homeless: those who “lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.”

In the 2011-2012 school year, that population numbered more than 17,000 students across the county’s school districts.

I’m Kelly Bennett, reporter for Voice of San Diego. You can reach me directly at or 619.325.0531.

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Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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