person holding their hands own with a small home in the palm of their hands

Finding People to Count Proves More Difficult Than Expected


By Zia Zografos

Unlike inhabitants of the tent cities in Los Angeles that have taken root along freeways, overpasses and city sidewalks, Ventura County’s homeless population is less obvious, often keeping hidden from the general public.

This made the job of dozens of volunteers difficult when they set out Jan. 24 to count and survey people living on the street and in parking lots, river beds and parks across Ventura County.

I was one of those volunteers.

Although I report on the homeless crisis from time to time, the count was not quite what I expected.

The annual survey, often referred to as the point-in-time count, is required of counties receiving funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. During the survey, people are asked a series of questions, and their answers offer insight into what led them to become homeless and what’s keeping them in a state of homelessness.

The Ventura County Continuum of Care Alliance, a collaborative group of agencies, cities and individuals, oversees the count. The alliance coordinates the volunteers who fan out to tally homeless individuals or families in the county’s cities and unincorporated areas. The alliance compiles the information, generally publishing the results a few months later. Continuum director Jennifer Harkey said she expects this year’s report to be completed sometime in the spring.

GONE TO WASTE—Bags of donated clothes were found torn open and clothing strewn on the ground behind a Thousand Oaks housing complex during last week’s Ventura County Homeless Count. ZIA ZOGRAFOS/Acorn Newspapers

GONE TO WASTE—Bags of donated clothes were found torn open and clothing strewn on the ground behind a Thousand Oaks housing complex during last week’s Ventura County Homeless Count. ZIA ZOGRAFOS/Acorn Newspapers

According to last year’s count, there were 2,238 homeless people living in Ventura County, including 1,356 unsheltered people. The total includes people living in shelters and hotel rooms paid for by government programs and charitable organizations. In 2020, 1,787 people were counted, 1,265 of them unsheltered. There was no count in 2021.

I volunteered with the Thousand Oaks group. We met at the Hillcrest Villas Apartments managed by nonprofit affordable housing provider Many Mansions.

Our group started at 8 a.m., though some started at 6 a.m.

I was paired with Stu Warford, a retired urban farmer who is a veteran count volunteer. Warford and his wife, Colleen, donate harvested crops to Manna Conejo Valley Food Bank.

Members of Thousand Oaks’ city staff were also in attendance. Other dignitaries participated as part of the earlier group.

Before setting off, we were instructed to only count people who slept outside or in a place not meant for human habitation. We were prepped on what to do if we saw children or people who were experiencing domestic violence.

The first question on our survey was, “Where did you sleep last night?”

I had imagined we would count more people than we did.

As we slowly drove through the parts of town assigned to us, we only spotted two individuals, one of whom had already been counted.

Warford suggested that people might be at work. Some people are able to hold down jobs despite not having housing.

Senior Dep. Chris Dyer of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, who works at the Camarillo Police Station, said, “We have a sect of homeless people who we never contact, people who work 40-hour-per-week jobs while living out of their cars,” he said. “And they never cause any problems.”

Others could have had appointments to attend or be hanging out in a new location, and still others might not want to be found.

Those involved with the homeless community know the count is rarely accurate. Many Mansions President Rick Schroeder said there can be three times as many people who are homeless than the count shows.

In Thousand Oaks, where Many Mansions is based, for example, vulnerable populations officers—whose primary assignment is working with members of the homeless community— keep their own count, which is always higher than the point-in-time number.

Despite authorities knowing the count will be off, the county continues to conduct it because funding is reliant upon it. The count, along with other data compiled by the continuum, determines funding allocation, Harkey said.

The one person I was able to survey on the 24th had been living in his car. A friend of his was helping him clean his living quarters.

The man was friendly and relatively open about his situation, answering various survey questions about the number of times he’s been homeless, whether he has a substance use disorder that affects his ability to live independently and if he has a chronic health condition.

People become homeless for all sorts of reasons, Schroeder said. Mental or physical disabilities can be a factor, he said, as can substance abuse. Some are fleeing domestic violence while others don’t want to be raised in the foster care system.

There is hope. People can rebound—Schroeder and Dyer said they’ve seen it happen.

“We do have people who are service resistant, but our (vulnerable populations officers) continually do outreach (and) extend that olive branch in the hopes that one day they’ll take it,” Dyer said.

“Some people are OK being homeless,” he said.

Though there’s likely no one-size-fits-all approach to solving homelessness, Schroeder said, he’s seen situations improve— especially when people agree to follow the rules at an affordable housing complex. Things might start off rocky, but an all-encompassing supportive approach helps improve a person’s situation.

“A formerly homeless resident in our supportive housing property only has to pay one-third of their total income toward rent,” Schroeder said. “Thus, they may not pay any rent at the beginning. However, over time, we help them get employment or government benefits. . . . Everyone eventually pays rent.”

As Warford and I drove, we saw signs of homeless living strewn throughout the city. When inspecting the nooks and crannies of my hometown, we saw mattresses, damaged bikes, shopping carts, garbage bins that had been picked through and piles of clothing. Evidence of homelessness was tucked away in places I’d never seen.

“It makes you see the city with a brand-new pair of eyes,” Warford said.

Article originally appeared in the Acorn (Read full story and additional photos) 

photo of back road next to electrical switch adjacent to commercial building

T.O. Council Selects “Dream Team” to Develop Emergency Homeless Shelter

The Thousand Oaks City Council has selected a trio of nonprofits to build and operate a village of tiny homes that will become the city’s first year-round emergency shelter and homeless services hub. 

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to choose a team led by Thousand Oaks-based affordable housing nonprofit Many Mansions to lease a city-owned property at 1205 Lawrence Drive to build a so-called navigation center. 

The site is an undeveloped acre in an industrial area of Newbury Park. The project will consist of 30 small, prefabricated modular homes with on-site services where law enforcement and social services agencies can send people in need of shelter.  San Francisco-based DignityMoves will construct the center and North Hills-based Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission will operate the site. 

 “Time is absolutely of the essence,” she said.  The site could be developed within 12-18 months and the council has the option to expand to 50 units at a later date, according to staff reports. 

 Jeff Lambert, chief operating officer of the Ventura County Community Foundation, called the partnership a “dream team” and said the foundation would work to bring charitable donations to the table to help support the venture. 

 Many Mansions, which owns and operates 18 affordable housing communities with 1,400 residents, is the only member of the development team based in Ventura County. The nonprofit will serve as leaseholder and provide consultation services to oversee that the site is well-run. 

 Developer DignityMoves specializes in building interim supportive housing, which its website describes as “a stop-over between tents and permanent housing.” The firm, which was created by a group of business and real estate professionals during the pandemic to address homelessness, has built three interim supportive housing communities with 165 units since 2021, including one in downtown Santa Barbara.

DignityMoves, the developer selected to build Thousand Oaks' first emergency shelter, has completed three interim supportive housing projects, including this one with 35 units in downtown Santa Barbara.
DignityMoves, the developer selected to build Thousand Oaks’ first emergency shelter, has completed three interim supportive housing projects, including this one with 35 units in downtown Santa Barbara.

Hope of the Valley, a faith-based nonprofit, operates 900 beds in tiny home villages, including the country’s largest village of tiny homes in Los Angeles County.  Though the organization is faith-based, it does not discriminate based on gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation.  Founder Ken Craft, a Ventura County native, told the council his rescue mission currently operates 15 shelters and three Project Homekey sites, which are former motels that were converted into permanent housing using state funds. 

 “We operate six tiny-home communities and we’ve seen really the impact it makes when we can bring people indoors,” Craft said. “We can stabilize them. Then we begin to address the underlying issues that led to their homelessness and the issues that are preventing them from being permanently housed.” 

The navigation center will include shower and laundry amenities as well as employment, healthcare and mental health services. It will not be a drop-in shelter. 

 “The goal of the temporary housing is to create a pathway to permanent housing and to end homelessness,” said Assistant City Manager Ingrid Hardy, who spearheaded the city’s effort. 

An estimated 250 residents in Thousand Oaks are living without shelter, Hardy said. 

The project is expected to cost $3.9 million to design and build and $800,000 to operate annually. The county has previously promised to pay cities for half of a shelter’s annual operating expenses, according to the staff report.  Dusty Russell, an economic development analyst for the city of Thousand Oaks, said the city is trying to minimize impact on its general fund. Other funding sources could include various county and state grants, including Project Homekey. 

 City Councilmember Al Adam said modular homes are the “cheapest, fastest” way for Thousand Oaks to prevent the “devastation” of homelessness that has plagued cities like Santa Barbara and West Hollywood.  “This modular home village that is to be created is as much for the homeless in our community as it is for the community itself,” he said. 

Councilmember Kevin McNamee said the navigation center “goes a long way” toward addressing inhumane living conditions, but said the city’s two current projects fall short of having capacity to house everyone living on the streets of Thousand Oaks.  He applauded the development team, noting that he encounters people experiencing homelessness outside his business every day.  “You’re doing God’s work,” he said.  

Article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Thousand Oaks selects developer for emergency homeless shelter

Dual Roles

Written by Rafael Gonzales


I have a unique position as both a Many Mansions staff member and resident. I moved here about 7 or 8 years ago with my family when I was in 7th grade. Before I moved to Many Mansions, I was going back and forth from city to city with my family. It was a bit hard, but it made me the person I am today. Seeing what my mom went through, I knew I wanted to do something more, and ultimately help her in the future.

When we first moved here, my two younger siblings and I ended up participating in many of the programs put on by Children Services. Participating in these activities really got me out of my comfort zone and socializing with residents my age. It was a good outlet for me. Children Services also helped me academically. The staff was really great about making me feel welcome, and helping me push through things that I didn’t think I could accomplish. Children Services not only provides academic support in the form of tutoring, but also provides resident students with the supplies they need to complete their school work.

I remember in 5th grade, while living at a shelter, I had to do a craft for the California Missions. I can’t remember if I had the supplies, or if my other classmates brought them, but you really couldn’t do anything at the shelter. Fifth graders at Many Mansions don’t have to go through the same experience. Resident students at Many Mansions are fortunate enough to have access to backpacks and school supplies as well as art supplies for projects like these. Without these resources, it would be difficult for them to do simple tasks at school.

After I graduated high school, and had completed my first year of college, I was offered a position in Children Services. I worked at summer camp the first year which was really great. I enjoy working with kids. Now, I work with chronically homeless families. It’s nice to hear the kids’ comments about us and how much they enjoy the programs that we put on. It’s really a great outlet for them to go somewhere where they can both have fun and learn. I’ve been in their shoes before. It’s rewarding to now be on the other side and able to be the one helping them.

If I am able to reach my goal of becoming a firefighter, I plan to return to Many Mansions to share what I have learned with the children. I would love to bring the entire fire squad to all of the sites and put on an event in which they get to go inside the fire truck and learn more about what firefighters do. In becoming a firefighter, I want to not only protect my broader community, but also further educate them through what I have to offer as a firefighter. If it weren’t for these programs at Many Mansions, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.