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Homeless Counts Down for 2017

A new count, conducted last January, showed the number of homeless people in San Luis Obispo County had dropped, and the County is claiming that shows its efforts to combat homelessness are working, despite the lack of available, let alone affordable housing continuing to grow.

SLO County’s homeless population dropped by 26 percent, according to the County, since the last census completed in 2015. Also, the number of homeless military veterans dropped by 38 percent over the same time period, according to the “2017 Homeless Census Survey and Report.”

The County has a Homeless Services Oversight Council or HSOC that works to “ensure that everyone has access to appropriate and affordable housing and to services they need to sustain it.”

County Homeless Services Coordinator Laurel Weir attributed the decline in the number of homeless vets to increases in available housing for veterans in SLO County.

“Over the past two years alone,” Weir said, “over 154 homeless veterans have been housed in the county, and over 200 have been housed since 2013, according to data provided by the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo and local Supportive Services for Veteran Families grantees.”

As part of its 2008, “10 Year Plan to End Homelessness,” which is now in its ninth year, the County conducts a census of its homeless people every two years.

Doing so ensures that the County continues to receive money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) “for shelters, services, and permanent supportive housing.”

The most recent survey was completed on a single day last January, and counted 1,125 homeless people scattered throughout the county. That compares with 1,515 counted in 2015, according to the County.

“A total of 81 homeless veterans were counted by the ‘Point in Time Count’ in January 2017,” according to the County, “compared to 130 in 2015. This represents a 38-percent decrease since 2015 and a 67-percent decrease from 2013, when 247 veterans were counted.”

But a census’ accuracy is dependent on uncontrollable factors, like weather and thoroughness.

“However,” the County said, “heavy rains around the time of the census likely caused some otherwise homeless people to stay with friends, family or in motels they paid for themselves. These individuals would not have been counted in the census.”

Weir said this likely had some impact on the size of the decrease, but annual data collected by homeless services programs over the past two years also suggests “there had been a decrease in the number of homeless persons in the county since January 2015.”

She believes new programs to house homeless people in the county have been making an impact.

“For example,” she said, “238 homeless families were housed by the County’s CalWORKs Housing Support Program from January 2015 to January 2017, and at least 18 additional participating families were housed in partnership with other programs during that time period.”

She acknowledged that a housing shortage — which affects the entire State of California — continues to be the biggest barrier to eliminating homelessness here in SLO County.

“There simply aren’t enough vacant rental units available in SLO County,” Weir said. “According to the most recent data from the Census Bureau, the percentage of available units in rental properties here is only 2.79 percent. For comparison, the state average was 3.3 percent and the national average was 5.85 percent.”

As for where the homeless were found, Morro Bay counted 36, all of whom were considered “unsheltered,” because there is no homeless shelter in the city.

Arroyo Grande counted 52 unsheltered and 42 sheltered (94 total); Grover Beach had 39 and 42 (total of 81); Pismo Beach nine (all unsheltered); and SLO had a whopping 194 unsheltered and 181 sheltered (total of 383).

As a comparison, in the entire unincorporated areas the count was 365 — all listed as unsheltered, because there are no homeless shelters located in any of the unincorporated communities. The survey did not break down these numbers by the individual community, however.

Other key findings included:

• Most homeless persons surveyed were either from this county or had a connection to the area
; 74% of all homeless adults surveyed reported they had become homeless living in SLO County, compared to 57% percent in 2015
; of those who became homeless in other counties or states, 49% came to SLO County because they had previously lived here, and 29% came here because they had friends or family here.

• The length of time people are homeless is growing; nearly 72% of homeless adults surveyed reported having been homeless for a year or more, compared to 66% in 2015.

• The City of San Luis Obispo had the largest homeless population (3% of the total), followed by the unincorporated areas of the county.

• Atascadero was the most frequent place of residence at the time of housing loss (17% of respondents).

• Weir noted that homeless counts in Santa Barbara, Kern, King/Tulare, Ventura, and San Benito counties also reported reductions from 2015 to 2017, with Monterey and Fresno/Madera counties reporting increases.

The single day count is conducted over a 12-hour period and done according to Federal guidelines. The County worked with a non-profit research firm, Applied Survey Research, to conduct the census and the survey.

Under federal rules, enumerators may only count people living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or on the streets i.e. in vehicles abandoned buildings and other places “not meant for human habitation;” or in motels where the rooms were paid for by non-profit groups.

The 2017 count was conducted on the night of Jan. 29 and the morning of Jan. 30. Persons living in shelters, transitional housing, or motels paid for by nonprofits were counted on the 29th. Unsheltered persons were counted the next morning. Teams of volunteers and “homeless guides” — persons who were currently or formerly homeless and who were thus familiar with where encampments are located — conducted the count around the county.

In the following weeks after the count, surveys were conducted with a sampling of 170 homeless people to collect demographic and other information.

The point-in-time count is intended to be a “snapshot” of the population in a single point in time. It does not provide an estimate of the annual number of people who were homeless throughout the year, according to the County. It is not adjusted for seasons but is simply done to measure trends in homelessness.

By Neil Farrell

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