About 50 volunteers in Tuolumne County are going through encampments and shelters this week for the federally mandated, biennial Point-In-Time homeless count.

The count is being conducted under the direction of the Central Sierra Continuum of Care, which receives funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for efforts to end homelessness in Tuolumne, Calaveras, Amador and Mariposa counties.

This year, people are being asked where they slept on Jan. 23.

Eva Questo, a housing resources coordinator for the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency, which oversees the continuum of care, said a training session for volunteers held on Jan. 17 drew more people than she’s seen in the past several counts.

“I was shocked and overjoyed to see that many volunteers,” she said.

A group of nine volunteers accompanied by Sheriff’s deputies scoured the homeless encampments off Stockton Road on Wednesday morning.

Another group on Tuesday counted people in an encampment behind Lowe’s off Old Wards Ferry Road in Sonora.

Questo said law enforcement provided them with the locations of more than dozen other locations throughout the county where homeless people have been known to camp.

The purpose of the count is to determine the number of people in the county who were homeless and considered “unsheltered” on Jan. 23.

Couch surfing or bunking at someone’s house is not considered “unsheltered” by HUD’s definition, which some say artificially suppresses the numbers.

Rural areas also face unique challenges in getting accurate numbers because of they generally have more open space and places where people can remain hidden than in cities.

Getting an accurate count is important because the number determines the amount of federal funding that the continuum of care will receive for efforts to end homelessness.

“We’re trying really hard to get an accurate count,” Questo said.

The Tuolumne County Behavioral Health Department used money from a $100,000 state grant for homeless outreach efforts to purchase more than 250 bags that contain gloves, gift cards for $5.25 at Day-O Espresso, and chocolate, which volunteers can give to people to encourage their participation.

Questo said she had about 30 bags left as of Wednesday, though she won’t know the number of people counted until after volunteers submit their completed surveys next week.

In January 2017, volunteers counted a total of 107 people in Tuolumne County who were unsheltered at the time. That number shot up to 711 during a privately funded count in September of that year.

The number from the September 2017 count were believed to be so much higher because the homeless population typically increases in the summer when the weather is better. There were also many more volunteers than the one earlier that year, and people who were couch surfing or staying at someone’s place were included.

People who are involved with the count that’s currently underway estimate the number will likely be about half as much as the one in September 2017, primarily due to the weather.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.