Alameda County’s homeless residents suffered through a cold night before volunteers counted them Wednesday morning in the county’s first biennial tally since 2019.

About 500 volunteers fanned out across the county starting at 5 a.m. when it felt like 34 degrees at the Oakland Airport, according to the National Weather Service.

EveryOne Home coordinated the count as a community-based organization aiming to end homelessness in the county. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the count to be delayed a year.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who was out Wednesday morning counting the homeless residents near Lake Merritt, called the situation “heartbreaking.”

“It was freezing this morning,” Schaaf said.

She expects to see more homeless people counted as sheltered compared to the previous count, but she is concerned because some of that shelter is being paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and will be going away.

None of the homeless residents were found dead Wednesday morning, seeing how cold it was, Oakland spokeswoman Karen Boyd said. Boyd helped with the count in East Oakland where encampments are more spread out compared to West Oakland.

Boyd said she saw a lot of recreational vehicles and other vehicles between the Oakland Coliseum and the airport. In general, more homeless residents are sheltering in vehicles than in the past, Boyd said.

A count that counts more

“This count counts more than any count before,” said Chelsea Andrews, executive director of EveryOne Home.

That’s because a lot has changed since the last count and agencies and nonprofits can get a true sense of the problem and can advocate for more resources and spend resources wisely, Andrews said.

EveryOne Home will also conduct a paper survey of homeless residents, who will be compensated for their help, to get a clearer picture of who’s experiencing homelessness and the resources that need to be deployed.

Helping with the count in 2022 were volunteers from Swords to Plowshares, a group that helps veterans of the armed forces.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff keeps her hands warm while speaking with reporters at Grove Shafter Park in Oakland on Feb. 23 during Alameda County’s biennial count of homeless residents. (Photo by Harika Maddala/Bay City News)

John Gibson, an outreach specialist with the group, said the COVID-19 pandemic created a whole new demographic in the homeless population.

Gibson is looking forward to getting the results of the count because he hopes it will raise awareness in the state capital and in Washington, D.C., so lawmakers can make informed decisions to address the crisis.

“It drives the aid that we get,” Schaaf said of the count.

Schaaf believes her city needs more permanent affordable housing. The level of housing unaffordability in the Bay Area “is unconscionable,” she said.

A person making minimum wage cannot afford any housing in the region while people making the median income can afford housing in only 27 percent of Bay Area ZIP codes, Schaaf said.

“Something definitely needs to be done,” said Laurence Walker, an Oakland resident and outreach specialist with Swords to Plowshares.

He counted homeless residents near Skyline High School and saw four cars, he said.

Like the mayor, he thinks Oakland needs more affordable housing and “desolate land” in Oakland could be used for it.

Keith Burbank, Bay City News

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.