Homeless Numbers Increase in Major California Counties – Except Somehow Not in San Diego

by on July 15, 2019 · 3 comments

in Homelessness, San Diego

All across California, the numbers of people who are homeless are increasing dramatically – especially in the populated counties – except for San Diego, for some reason.

In the latest count of San Diego County homeless people, conducted on January 25, it was found the homeless population had actually dropped – from about 6 percent to 11 percent (depending on who’s counting) and totaled 8,102 humans.

In late April, the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless released their report, and found 3,626 were in shelters and 4,476 were living on the streets, vehicles, canyons or other open places.

Reportedly, a 5.5 percent drop from last year, the Point-In-Time Count survey states this year’s numbers are down from both last year’s observed total of 8,576 and the 2017 total of 9,116.

As usual, the City of San Diego had the largest number of homeless people in the county: 5,073 humans –  62.7 percent of the area’s homeless population. 2,600 people were unsheltered and 2,473 were in shelters. Compare these numbers with the official numbers from last year;  San Diego had 4,912 homeless people, including 2,630 who were unsheltered and 2,282 sheltered, about 57 percent of the county’s total.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported:

The number of unsheltered homeless people dropped by 514 from last year, representing a 10 percent decrease. The number of people in shelters increased by 1 percent.

The decrease in unsheltered people largely is from a significant drop in the number of people who were counted as living in vehicles, a category that saw a 55 percent decrease from last year under a new method of counting.

Outside the city of San Diego, North County had the largest homeless population with 1,549 people in shelters or living outside or in vehicles, representing 19 percent of the county’s homeless population. More than 1,000 homeless residents live in east county cities like El Cajon, La Mesa and Santee while several hundred each live in south county, the coastal areas of north county and the inland sections of north county.

Compare these overall numbers with other major counties in our state.

Los Angeles and SoCal Counties

Los Angeles County officials reported that the number of people living on the streets, in vehicles and in shelters increased by about 12% over last year. The annual point-in-time count put the number of homeless people at roughly 59,000 countywide. Within the city of Los Angeles, the number is more than 36,000, a 16% increase. Unlike San Francisco, Los Angeles’ count didn’t include people in hospitals, jails or residential treatment facilities — places where homeless people frequently find themselves.

Orange County changed the way it conducted its count and recorded a 43% increase from its last count in 2017. Ventura, San Bernardino and Kern counties all reported increases of 20% or more, with Riverside in the double digits. LA Times

San Francisco and Bay Area Counties

This county’s point-in-time count revealed that homelessness had increased by about 30% from 2017. San Francisco does use a broader definition of what’s considered to be homeless beyond HUD’s; they include homeless people in jails, hospitals and residential treatment facilities. It has about 9,784 homeless residents.

Other Bay Area counties saw increases in the number of homeless people; Santa Clara County jumped 31% over the last two years, from 7,394 to 9,706. San Jose saw its homeless count increase by 1,822 people, for a total of 6,172 homeless residents living in the county’s largest city.

In the East Bay’s Alameda County, there was a 43% increase since 2017, for a homeless population of 8,022, of which 6,312 are unsheltered. Los Angeles Times

San Diego County’s Numbers

So what explains San Diego County’s drop in numbers? Has the homeless population actually decreased? Nah, as organizers of the count are up front and say it could be the result of a new method of counting, which by the way, they are quick to add, is more accurate.

CEO of the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless, Tamera Kohler, said changes in how the count was taken have made the numbers more accurate, even though it’s “still a snapshot,” “the data is more precise.”

But, as the U-T reports:

Under the new methodology, the number of people counted in vehicles this year was significantly lower than in 2018. The 2019 count found 499 homeless people living in cars and 74 in recreational vehicles. Last year’s count, which did not include RVs, found 1,262 people in vehicles.

The numbers have their critics. Michael McConnell has been a homeless advocate for decades and he questioned the count because he believed the number of cars and RVs was suspiciously low. McConnell had also challenged last year’s report for not including RVs in the count. He said:

“The RV number is obviously an undercount. My guess is they just didn’t have enough people to conduct the count.”

The U-T also quoted John Brady, formerly homeless and now a member of the homeless choir Voices of Our City. He questioned the number of vehicle dwellers in the report, and stated:

“I think anyone in the city would agree that vehicle habitation numbers have increased over the past year. Yet reported numbers are down significantly.”

“Across the board, should you hear of anyone making claims of success or building solutions based on these aggregate numbers, be wary. These numbers represent the barest minimum of people that are struggling in our county, which our currently available resources are wholly inadequate to serve.”

The Voice of San Diego had its implied critique and analysis:

The Regional Task Force on the Homeless, which coordinates the homeless census, changed its strategy this year at the urging of federal officials and consultants who scrutinized San Diego’s homelessness response amid a deadly 2017 hepatitis A outbreak. The task force’s controversial decision to exclude RVs from last year’s tally added further urgency.

Local leaders said the count represents only a snapshot of a homeless population that’s likely much larger. In fact, an analysis of data from the homeless management information system the task force oversees revealed 27,850 people used homeless services countywide last year – more than triple the number counted in the annual homeless census.

Yet federal officials have long required the regions across the nation to conduct point-in-time counts. This year, those officials pushed San Diego to change its approach to the annual census.

For years, the task force used surveys and multipliers to determine the overall numbers – especially of people living in vehicles or tents. Those tools were dropped this year – and somehow the new method has substantially underestimated those living in vehicles.

Anybody who has been watching the news these past months is aware of all the complaints of how people in cars and vans have been crowding parks, beaches and residential streets. The Voice:

The new strategy brought with it a surprising result in the wake of a boom in reports of homeless San Diegans living in vehicles following the city’s repeal of its longstanding vehicle habitation ordinance.

The task force reports it counted just 573 people living in vehicles countywide, including 74 people in RVs – a significant drop from last year’s tallies.

A HUD official who oversees these point-in-time counts, William Snow, said that federal officials told the San Diego Task Force it needed to focus on counting people – not vehicles, as in past years.

According to the Voice, he said: “Our advice to them was your methodology needs to reflect people, so counting vehicles will not stand,” Snow said. For that reason, Snow cautions, San Diegans should be cautious before concluding that there’s been a decrease in homeless people living on city streets or in vehicles countywide. “You may just read this as we have a more accurate count of what’s going on,” Snow said.

Now one has to wonder why the RV safe parking lot in Mission Valley – just recently opened – is not filled – and worse, is basically empty.

It was in June with City officials and Jewish Family Service of San Diego officially opened an overnight parking lot near SDCCU stadium for homeless individuals living in their RVs. It was the third of 3 overnight “Safe Parking” areas managed by Jewish Family Service in partnership with the city. The new stadium lot is open from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.

But now we’ve learned the lot is going largely unused. A local TV station reported that on one Tuesday morning of late, the lot looked completely empty.

Some RV travelers say the cost of gas just to get there is too high, plus a huge complaint is the requirement that people in their vehicles must depart the lot at 7 a.m.

So, a main question remains: why are San Diego County homeless population numbers so out of  sync with the rest of the state?

News sources:

San Diego Union-Tribune


Voice of San Diego

LA Times

Los Angeles Times

Times of San Diego


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Christo K July 15, 2019 at 4:15 pm

Thete are more than 74 RV Dwellers in 92107 alone. Just drive around at 5am and you will see.


Kelly Spoon July 16, 2019 at 3:15 pm

Dreams for Change has been operating Safe Parking in San Diego since 2010. We were the operators of the city and JFS lots up until November 2018. We had open discussions with the mayor and every city council members office about the purposed RV lot and the obstacles it would face prior to the contract award to JFS. Yet the city went in the direction of using an operator who has NEVER opened a lot or had any experience with RV’s. If the OB Rag, company, group, organization or person who would like to understand safe parking or the population of people experiencing homelessness living in their vehicles I invite you to tour our lots.


OBkid July 16, 2019 at 6:28 pm

SDPD rounded up the homeless for petty crimes before the january homeless census. That way the numbers look good for the city.


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