For that reason, 81 local agencies, under the aegis of San Antonio's Community Initiatives Department, on February 24 will conduct an ambitious, one-day census of the homeless population in San Antonio and Bexar County.

To members of the involved agencies - collectively called the "Continuum of Care" - an accurate count of San Antonio's homelessness isn't merely a matter of dry statistics, but a life-or-death issue.

"There is a necessity for having an adequate count of the homeless population in Bexar County," says Tom Harrell, who works with Seton Home, an archdiocean center for homeless teens. "One of the bottom-line reasons is for federal funding so that this community can get its real share of federal funding to provide a multitude of social services for the homeless community. We have only good assumptions as to what the size of this community really is."

Harrell says the best current estimate comes from a U.S. Conference of Mayors report, which stated that San Antonio had 23,000 homeless individuals, with 65 percent of those being children. But Harrell says those numbers may be suspect, because they are based only on information coming from obvious places like shelters, hospitals, and schools.

"There's really almost a distinction between street people who are homeless, and the homeless who you never see," he says. "It's like a ghost community. In San Antonio, you have a very large Hispanic population, who are very altruistic. They take in people who are homeless. There are many families living in one room at somebody's house, or a garage. You don't see them. And they may or may not be getting touched by the social-services system."

To make this census effective, Continuum of Care hopes to reach areas rarely associated with homelessness. "One thing you have to remember is that the homeless are not just people who roam around downtown San Antonio, or Broadway, for that matter," says Roberta Varela-Hein, director of client services for Jewish Family and Children Services. "There's a huge homeless issue outside of 410. This survey should help bring a general awareness to San Antonio that homelessness is an issue for a person who may live a mile away from you, even though you own a nice house." •

For info, contact Roberta Varcla-Hein at [email protected], 302-6920.