In an effort to capture as accurate a snapshot as possible of Kern County’s homeless population, the Board of Supervisors hopes to recruit more volunteers than ever before for January’s point-in-time count.

Although it takes place each year throughout the country, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s point-in-time count has recently received more attention after homelessness spiked throughout the state and in Kern County.

Intended as a means for tracking trends in homeless populations, the point-in-time counts act as an annual survey of homelessness. State and federal funding levels are tied to the numbers captured by the yearly survey. While HUD may penalize municipalities that see increases in homelessness without proper explanations, funding generally goes up when more homeless people are identified.

“This is, in my opinion, the most critical thing we will do in 2020,” Supervisor Leticia Perez said at a board meeting on Tuesday during a discussion of the count.

She said she wanted her office to be personally involved in the development of the plan for the count, which will provide Kern County homeless experts with crucial information about the kinds of people going through homelessness and where they are located.

Historically, around 150 volunteers have taken part in the count. Last year, after prodding from both Kern County and the city of Bakersfield, around 300 volunteers took to the streets to participate.

The bump in volunteers corresponded with a 50 percent increase in Kern County’s tallied homeless population. Officials at Tuesday’s meeting said the county probably would have noted a 12 percent increase in homelessness had the extra volunteers not been a factor.

Because HUD only allows volunteers a four-hour window to conduct the count, more volunteers means county officials can survey more areas of the county. Previously metro Bakersfield has been prioritized over more rural areas.

This year, the county hopes for 500 volunteers, which would allow rural places to be surveyed.

“We have to be all hands on deck and we have to do things we’ve never done before,” Perez said of this year’s count.

Like last year, the county will pay employees who choose to participate.

“The point-in-time count effort is strengthening with each year going forward,” County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop said. “We’re breathing new vigor into that effort. The folks that are involved are doing a very good job to ensure we have an army of people on the streets all across this county.”

Those who wish to volunteer can sign up at kc2020pit.eventbrite.com. If volunteers have questions, they can email Valerie D. Rodriguez, Homeless Projects Assistant at United Way of Kern County at valerie.r@uwkern.org.