Counting the homeless in Tuolumne County is not a simple task.

Some live in hobo-type camps, some come and go through temporary shelters. Others, including some who are mentally ill, simply wander the streets. Many are frequent visitors at food pantries and day shelters.

But to social service agencies that help feed, clothe, and house the homeless, finding out how many people are actually without homes is the first step to getting federal and state grant money to build one or more new shelters in the county.

So for three days at the end of January, a count will be taken.

"In essence, we need to take a snapshot photo of the homeless situation by taking a census," said Sergei Shkurkin, a consultant hired by Tuolumne County under a Community Development Block Grant program.

Shkurkin met Thursday with representatives from 10 agencies that make up the Tuolumne County Supportive Housing Coalition. He told coalition members the census will involve asking as many homeless people in the county as possible a set of questions to determine who they are and what their needs are.

After the count, Shkurkin will use the answers to determine where, what type and how much shelter the county needs.

A year ago by rough estimate, there were about 250 homeless people in the county, coalition members told Shkurkin during the two-hour meeting at the county Board of Supervisors' chambers.

Shkurkin and the county housing coalition want to garner some of the $2 billion in federal grants available to counties from the Emergency Housing and Assistance Program Capital Development Grant.

Shkurkin has worked in shelter services for more than 20 years and has recently written and administered grants for Yolo and Placer counties, said Beetle Barbour, shelter program manager for the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency.

Finding a seller and neighbors willing to have a homeless shelter nearby could prove to be another obstacle, Shkurkin said. Sometimes, he said, there's a feeling of "not in my back yard."

But Shkurkin said 5 percent of the grant he hopes to obtain will pay for his work to secure the property or properties.