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"Every single one of those people, without question, were the most vulnerable of Sonoma County's homeless," he said. "I hope (the 100,000 Homes campaign) saves a lot of lives, I really do. This is the first concerted effort to really get a handle on the situation and find out how big of a problem it is in Sonoma County."

Abramson said she is hoping to get 22 volunteers from Petaluma to conduct the surveys in the city in mid-April. While most of the county will be polling people April 7, 8 and 9, the Petaluma Police Department had already planned a sweep of homeless camps in early April, so organizers are waiting until that's complete to survey Petaluma's transients, which will take place April 11, 12 and 13.

"We're trying to locate all of the camps, particularly the ones around the SMART (train) rights-of-ways, along the river and on any Caltrans properties," said Lyons of the sweep, explaining that the department is working with COTS to clean up the camps, many of which are littered with everything from discarded food packaging to human waste.

Survey volunteers will be trained on how to conduct the survey and work with the homeless to get information about their medical conditions and personal history. A notoriously insular community, Abramson said the volunteers will offer transients grocery store gift cards if they agree to participate in the survey.

Once completed, the data will allow both the county and various homeless agencies such as COTS to rank their homeless clients by who is most at risk. Each person would be given a number that designates how vulnerable that individual is based on a wide variety of factors.

Abramson said of the roughly 3,200 homeless people living in Sonoma County, about 1,000 said they would live indoors if that was an option. "With 1,000 people who want to come inside, we need to know who is most in need," she said.

Johnson agreed it would be a useful tool, both to determine how to most effectively allocate COTS' resources, and to bring attention to the issue of homelessness and what can be done to reduce it.

"There's a huge number of people who are out there and are going to perish is something isn't done," he said. "Efforts like this put a spotlight on the issue and inspire people to care about what happens to them."

Those interested in volunteering to conduct surveys should contact Abramson at 565-7548 or Jenny.Abramson@sonoma-county.org, or sign up online at http://sonoma-county-homelesscount.wikispaces.com/Volunteer+Information.

(Contact Emily Charrier at emily.charrier@arguscourier.com)

UPDATE: This story was updated to include the dates of when the survey will taking place in Petaluma, April 11, 12 and 13.