Volunteers show show up Wednesday for annual Contra Costa County homeless count

A hike through thick brush to a shadowy freeway overpass in Walnut Creek.That was just one of many trips workers and volunteers took Wednesday to those without permanent housing as part of the annual homeless count in Contra Costa County.

"We're excited that we have a number of volunteers and community members who are really interested in understanding what we can do in developing solutions for homelessness, and before we can do that, we really need to understand the scope,” said Lavonna Martin, County Director of Health, Housing and Homeless Services.

And that means understanding that there are many roads that lead to homelessness, such as drug addiction, abuse and skyrocketing rents.

Raquel Pena and her two kids have been staying at a Martinez shelter after she spent time in rehab.

"There's so many different reasons that people are homeless. it's not always what you assume,” Pena said. “My story is different. everybody's story is different. Just don't make assumptions. Just come out, reach out and help."

In Walnut Creek, contractor Michael Anthony Ramirez has been homeless for more than a year.

“My son was murdered,” Ramirez said. “Life just kind of went spiraling down after that.”

Ramirez says he's grateful for what the county is doing.

"I think they're doing an excellent job,” he said. “They helped me quite a bit getting to and from some appointments to some of the more major things I wasn't getting to."

But other homeless people are skeptical that everyone will be counted.

"A lot of them don't come here every day,” said a man who wished to be identified only as Kelly as he mopped the floor of Loaves & Fishes, a Martinez organization that feeds the homeless. “I couldn't really give you a count, but I know there's a lot more than what's on that list."

State senator Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), who accompanied workers Wednesday, said, “Homelessness is a visible and sometimes invisible problem in our communities, and the purpose of today is to get them out in the open, find out who they are and where they are and what their circumstances are."

There were about 1,600 people in last year's homeless count. Officials hope that number goes down.

"Hopefully it's lower because we're doing or job well, but I can't be certain that's the case, because we do know families, their incomes are stagnant, the rents are rising,” said Leslie Gleason, director of programs for Shelter Inc.

Officials are asking homeless individuals who have not yet been counted – and who have access to a phone – to call 211 by Thursday. All information will be kept confidential.