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Sonoma County plans registry to identify at-risk homeless

  • A homeless youth sets down his belongings after laying out a sleeping bag underneath an awning at Catholic Charities' Homeless Services Center on Morgan Street in Santa Rosa in 2013. (PD FILE, 2013)

With the aim of zeroing in on Sonoma County's most at-risk homeless people, county officials are about to embark on the first-ever detailed homeless registry.

The database will include names, gender, ethnicity, medical and military history. The publicly funded effort will abide by medical privacy laws, meaning much of the gathered personal information will be kept confidential, officials said.

Overall, about 1,700 homeless people are living outside in Sonoma County. Using the registry, officials plan to identify those who are most in need of housing.

The county is looking for about 125 volunteers for the three-day survey, which is scheduled for April 7, 8 and 9.

“The goal is to identify the people who most need to get inside because of their health conditions,” said Jenny Abramson, coordinator of the Sonoma County Continuum of Care, the agency spearheading the project.

For the project, Abramson's agency is partnering with a national organization called Common Ground, whose 100,000 Homes campaign is providing survey, registry and methodology tools. Abramson said the program has become a model for reducing homelessness across the country.

Sonoma County has for years conducted an anonymous random survey of people living on the street. The county homeless count provides baseline data used to seek federal, state and private funding to finance services for homeless people.

It has served as an important “social science study,” providing such information as common substance abuses, how long people have been living on the streets and how many are veterans, Abramson said.

The registry project has already identified 200 beds that will be reserved for those whose medical conditions earn them the highest priority in the registry, Abramson said. She said the need could be as high as 1,000 beds.

The priority list will be determined using 100,000 Home's “vulnerability index.”

Registry volunteers will survey the 25 U.S. Census tracts that have the highest number of homeless residents.

David Rabbitt, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said the registry project directly engages at-risk homeless people rather than wait for them to seek services.

Volunteers must participate in a one-hour training session related to interviewing homeless people and completing the survey forms. Volunteers will be needed to enter survey data after each day.

To volunteer, please contact Jenny Abramson, Sonoma County Community Development Commission, at 707-565-7548 or Jenny.Abramson@sonoma-county.org. Volunteers can sign up at http://sonoma-county-homelesscount.wikispaces.com/

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