A three-day survey now under way throughout Tuolumne County is expected to show who is homeless and why and how they can be helped.

Surveying began yesterday and ends tomorrow. At 19 places where homeless people likely gather such as motels, public and mental health centers and churches workers are waiting with questionnaires and goody bags for those who participate.

The workers have 27 confidential questions dealing with age and gender, housing situations, employment and educational histories, drug usage, health conditions and the reasons for homelessness.

For taking part in the survey, people can choose bags filled with snacks or bags of hygiene products, condoms and syringe-cleaning kits. The bagged goods were donated by the county health department, and the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency food bank.

Beetle Barbour, shelter manager for A-TCAA, said the reasons for homelessness in this area vary widely and that finding these people will be a challenge for survey workers.

"You would be surprised to know that a lot of the county's homeless have families," Barbour said. "But it is pretty hard to pay rent if you are making minimum wage and working full time at 29 hours a week. That is what one large employer in the county considers full time."

The three-day "snapshot" of the county's homeless population is the first step toward improving it, said Sergei Shkurkin, whose consulting firm of the same name was hired by Tuolumne County to write a grant to get money to help the homeless.

Shkurkin said about $2 billion is available in federal and state grants from the Emergency Housing Assistance Program. Cities and counties around the nation compete for shares of that money.

A year ago, the Tuolumne County Supportive Housing Coalition estimated 250 homeless men, women and children were living in Tuolumne County.

But no one knows for sure how many people are homeless in Tuolumne County, said Barbour.