The Catholic Charities Homeless Service Center, a small house on Morgan Street in Santa Rosa, is a crossroads for the stories behind the numbers in the latest census of homeless people in Sonoma County.
And this year the numbers are greater than ever, 4,539, up from 3,247 in the last census, in 2009, according to the Jan. 28 census.
That would represent a 40 percent increase in homelessness, although organizers believe the jump is closer to 25 to 30 percent, with the remainder reflecting more precise counting.
"It's still significant, it's still alarming," said Jenny Abramson, coordinator for the county's Continuum of Care, which organized the census.
Many of the stories — sketched in 33-question questionnaires filled out by every person counted — point to the long and lingering economic slump as a leading cause of today's homelessness, she said.
They come to life daily at 600 Morgan Street at 1 p.m., when people arrive to register to stay the night at Sam Jones Hall, a west Santa Rosa shelter.
There is Alex Averbuck, 39, a 1988 El Molino High School graduate who lost his job and has been staying at Sam Jones Hall for nearly six months.
"I never had trouble getting a job until the economy took a dump," he said. "This whole thing has been an eye-opener."
Anne D, 52, a nurse who withheld her last name so her family wouldn't find out her situation, lost her job too, then declared bankruptcy, then couldn't sell her Siskiyou County home. Now she too sleeps in one of Sam Jones's 120 beds.
She's just been plowing forward, she said, looking for work. "It was rough but I think I was shellshocked, &‘Okay, this is what I've got to do.' But there were times I cried."
And there is Kevin Acuff, of Sonoma, for whom things first went south when he lost his job as a construction manager. In April, he learned he had cancer, and then he had to move out of his house because he and his wife were divorcing.
Then his money ran out and soon, he too, was seeking help at Morgan Street, which placed him at the Nightingale Project, a shelter for people with severe health problems.
"It's incredibly stressful and lonely," said Acuff, who started chemotherapy Wednesday and was walking gingerly. "You have no idea where you're going to go next, especially with the economy."
The biennial homeless census was presented to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. Mandated by the federal government, it makes the county eligible to compete for up to $2.5 million in federal Housing and Urban Development funds for transitional housing and other services.
The $78,000 survey, conducted by Watsonville-based Applied Survey Research, also helps the county determine how to direct its money to the best effect.
This year's report likely takes into greater account than the 2009 census the swelling in homelessness caused by the recession and its long after-effects, homeless advocates and service workers said.
"Overall, the impact of the Great Recession is here," said Abramson.
The growing numbers have long been visible on the front lines of homeless service agencies, said Georgia Berland, executive officer of the Sonoma County Task Force for the Homeless.
"The demand has just been rising with the foreclosures and job losses," she said. "We're getting a lot more people who never really imagined they would ever be homeless."