It’s rare that an official as high up in government as the president’s Chief of Staff gets involved in such a hands-on project as going around San Francisco to count the homeless people. But that’s exactly what Denis McDonough did on Thursday night.
According to SFGate, McDonough joined a crew of volunteers in combing through the city’s downtown area, discretely adding up every homeless person living on the streets. The Chief of Staff pitched in to the homeless count effort as an attempt to give President Obama an idea about how the homeless situation is shaping up in major cities like San Francisco — namely to determine if the number of homeless people has increased or decreased since the last count.
The homeless count took only one-and-a-half hours thanks to the combined work of more than 500 volunteers led by Mayor Ed Lee, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, and the director of the city’s Human Services Agency, Trent Rhorer. This was not the first time San Francisco conducted a count of the homeless population; the city recruits helpers for the homeless count every two years. However, this was the first time someone as high-ranking as Obama’s chief of staff got involved in the homeless count.
According to Think Progress, the volunteers don’t simply count the homeless, but also ask them questions to get an idea about the causes of homelessness. The questions help to determine how long people have been homeless, whether or not they are war veterans, if they have medical conditions and what happened that forced them to be homeless. The answers to these questions can then be used in future legislation and budgeting to determine how the city can help homeless people find jobs and shelter.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said McDonough. “What I see here, what we just walked through, this is a problem. But this is the same sort of challenge we face all over the country. The numbers tell the story. And that’s why this count is so important.”
The total number of homeless from this year’s count won’t be released until sometime in the summer. The count from 2011 found 6,455 homeless people, while 2013 counted a slight decrease to 6,436 homeless people.
One of the homeless men counted by Obama’s chief of staff, Mandy Edwards, claimed he was shocked to learn the government was making an effort to help the homeless.
“I’ve been out here for three months, and I don’t think anyone notices me,” Edwards said. “If they’re counting guys like me, that’s good. We need all the help we can get.”