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Counting the homeless population

They’re tucked away in cubbyholes behind Dumpsters or lifeguard towers, concealed in alleyways and stairwells, any place affording shelter from the elements.

It was the task of Mark Vacquier to count the Village’s homeless population in and around La Jolla’s downtown neighborhoods from 4 to 8 a.m. last Friday.

He was one of a team of 400 tallying the homeless countywide, an effort conducted by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a nationwide federation of public, private and nonprofit organizations devoted to ending homelessness.

Information gleaned from their work will be tallied over the next few weeks and eventually end up in a federal grant application, he said.

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In January 2008, long before the most recent severe economic downturn, a San Diego County count found significantly more people living on the street, up nearly 11 percent from 2007.

Numbers rising

During this year’s count, Vacquier detected eight homeless in the first two hours, covering a circular route that took in Scripps Park, Children’s Pool, La Jolla Recreation Center on Prospect Street and the walking path along Coast Boulevard.

Last year they counted seven, said Walt Sanford, executive director of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless.

In 2008, counters found 7,582 homeless - those in the street, in emergency shelters, etc. - countywide. He expects this year’s numbers will almost certainly grow regionally, though perhaps not as much in La Jolla.

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Police have reported a doubling of the homeless population in downtown San Diego recently, Sanford noted.

“I don’t know that the economic downturn is really having a disproportionate impact on folks in La Jolla,” he said. “My guess is you’re not going to see an increase in middle-class folks on the street because of the downturn.”

Nuisance for merchants

Vacquier, pointing to a hooded homeless person who’d been sleeping behind the Cove lifeguard tower who was packing up and moving on about 6 a.m., said, “I’ve found them under buildings, in parking garages, with shopping carts near Dumpsters, whatever they can use as a shelter.”

Some say an increase in the number of homeless people in the Village is already harming business.

“I don’t think it’s because of the economic downturn,” said Daisy Fitzgerald of Ark Antiques For Animal Charities at 7643 Girard Ave.

She said they have had problems with people sleeping in front of their store, relieving themselves in their landscaping and vandalizing public benches nearby.

“It’s just a nuisance, a persistent problem. It’s intimidating.”

Fitzgerald, a new board member with Promote La Jolla, said that group and all the merchants are going to have to work to find a solution.

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