Sacramento State has taken on a crucial role in addressing homelessness in Sacramento County.

Sac State students accounted for more than one-fourth of the 1,000 volunteers participating in the biennial Homeless Point-in-Time (PIT) Count, Jan. 30-31. Their findings in the field, on consecutive chilly nights, will inform policy and funding decisions at the state and federal levels to combat homelessness over the next two years.

“It is powerful to see students participating in this endeavor in the communities that surround our campus, the same communities we often call home,” said Noel Mora, president of Associated Students, Inc. (ASI). “It is also an issue that many students have been faced with, and doing our part to get adequate resources is key.”

As many as 1 in 10 Sacramento State students face homelessness in a city with notoriously high rents.

Sac State Downtown served as one of two deployment centers for the Homeless PIT Count. Volunteer teams were dispatched to specific counting areas across the county. The routes were mapped by faculty researchers in the Division of Social Work – Arturo Baiocchi, Susanna Curry, and Ethan Evans – and the University’s Institute for Social Research (ISR).

In another contribution by Sac State, the campus Community Engagement Center helped recruit students and others to participate.

“Our focus is the unsheltered-homeless count,” Baiocchi said before the count began. “We collected information about known homeless encampments in Sacramento County and have identified about 160 areas. And this year, volunteers also will go to random areas where we have no information that there are encampments, to see if they find anyone. This will be a more rigorous PIT count than we did two years ago.”

This was the second time that Sacramento Steps Forward, the nonprofit charged with conducting the count, has partnered with Sac State to provide research and analytical services. The first time was in 2017 when, on a single night, more than 2,000 individuals were found to be sleeping outside or in something unsuited for extended habitation, such as a tent, trailer, or an automobile. Another 1,613 individuals were reported sleeping in emergency shelters or transitional housing.

“When we say ‘3,600 tonight,’ we actually think that throughout the year there are 12,000 to 15,000 homeless in Sacramento County,” Baiocchi said.

The Social Work professors and ISR staff will provide methodology analysis for the 2019 PIT Data Collection and issue their final report on the findings this summer.

Student-volunteers from the University’s Social Work program were trained in how to approach and interview individuals experiencing homelessness. Those students served as team leaders for the two-night survey, and each person who agreed to an interview received a $5 gift card.

“Homelessness is becoming the norm in California,” Baiocchi said. “There is a tendency to put distance between ourselves and these folks, because it makes us uncomfortable. But research shows that if you have contact, a conversation, with someone experiencing homelessness, you’re less likely to hold a stigmatizing attitude toward them.

“Only about 25 to 30 percent of the homeless in our community are mentally ill. Many people are struggling to make ends meet. I tell students that PIT can be difficult and challenging, but it will be a grounding experience for them.” – Dixie Reid