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Felix Adamo/ The Californian

Juan Avila, right, interviews Billy Hawley at the Mission at Kern County as part of the Kern County Homeless Collaborative countywide count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless families and individuals in January.

A countywide count of both sheltered and unsheltered homeless in Kern County began late Wednesday afternoon with volunteers questioning homeless in local shelters and compiling information that's required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The information helps determine the amount of federal funds the county will receive to help the homeless, said Louis Medina, homelessness project manager for United Way of Kern County. The count will be conducted over a 24-hour period, with volunteers seeking out and counting unsheltered homeless on Thursday.

"We'll be hitting areas where we know the homeless live or hang out, like recycling centers or libraries," Medina said.

The survey only takes about five minutes, and it doesn't ask the person's name. What it does include are questions on age, gender, whether they're a military veteran, how long they've been homeless, whether they're disabled, suffer from substance abuse or have chronic diseases that commonly afflict the homeless, such as tuberculosis.

The 2011 census count of 1,439 homeless reflected a 4 percent decrease in the community from the 1,499 counted in 2009. Medina attributes some of that drop to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"We always hope the number (of homeless) will be lower," Medina said.

The effort drew at least one volunteer from outside Kern County. Toulu Thao, of the Fresno Office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was in town taking part in an unofficial capacity to help count the unsheltered homeless.

Thao said it's important to get these counts done and know who's out there.

"I'm really excited to help out," he said.

Every couple of minutes another homeless person stepped out of a building where counting was occurring at The Mission at Kern County. Some were getting ready for dinner, while others mingled outside.

Ed Marr, 43, said he thought the volunteers were gathering important information, and he felt they were very compassionate. He said the mission has resources for him like health care, and it's important to get that help while working to better your place in life.

Marr has been at the mission since Nov. 26.

"It's nice to know people actually care," he said of the volunteers.

C.J. Gable is 18 and has spent the past couple of weeks at the mission. He said he's open about anything in his life, and although he thought some of the questions, particularly those about drug use, were "off," he answered everything.

Walter Godsey, 53, has only been at the mission a few days, but he didn't have any problem with taking a few minutes to answer questions.

"The people are good, hopefully what (the volunteers) are doing will make it even better," Godsey said.