The good news is that the number of homeless appeared to has fallen in San Diego County in the past year, with the number estimated to be 8,900.
The bad news is that 8,900 people are homeless.
Each year, the Regional Task Force on the Homeless performs a point-in-time count of the county’s homeless. Volunteers canvass the county, trying as best they can to tally the number of people who are sleeping on sidewalks, in canyons, in cars…
It’s an inexact science for certain, but the count does give a rough idea of the scale of problem. Mandated by the federal government, it helps determine where federal money should go.
This year, the number of homeless fell 7.7 percent, from last year’s count of 9,638.
More heartening is that the number of homeless living on the streets fell 13 percent, from 5,2678 to 4,326. The number of those in shelters fell one percent, from 4,371 to 4,326.
Homeless advocates weren’t exactly cheering the news, though. After all, the number of homeless counted was higher than the tally in 2010, when it was 8,500. And weather may had played a role because it rained the night of the count.
“It’s only a snapshot,” said Dolores Diaz, executive director of the Regional Task on the Homeless. “We were only able to see what we saw at that particular time.”
Homelessness is impossible to completely tally, she added. Some people are homeless, but are staying with friends or family.
This year’s decrease did stop a trend of increases. In 2006, the number was 6,900. In 2008, it jumped to 7,900.
The city of San Diego had the bulk of the homeless — 64.6 percent — which is always the case, given the city’s size and number of shelters. The East County had the lowest percentage — 7.3 percent.
A number of ambitious initiatives have been undertaken recently in hopes of putting a dent in the homeless problem. San Diego just opened its first permanent homeless shelter in the financial district. The one-stop center, called Connections Housing, provides a host of services, including job training and mental health care.
It contains 223 beds. The number of people estimated to be living on the streets of San Diego, meanwhile, is 3,115.
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has made addressing the homeless problem one of his priorities. He pushed for the city’s emergency winter shelter to be open for three extra months this year and is calling for it be open year-round next year. The shelter, in Barrio Logan, houses about 220 homeless. The city is also keeping the emergency shelter for veterans open until July. Based in the Sports Arena area, it has 150 beds. Filner’s fiancé, Brownyn Ingram, is also active in homeless issues.
But, as the count shows, this is no small problem. Take one disturbing finding: Those saying they’ve been homeless for more than a year rose from 64 to 69 percent.
One of the biggest problems is the costs that homeless can rack up, such as police and medical services. That problem seems to be unwavering. The percentage of those who used the emergency room in the past year was 54 percent, up from 50 percent from the year before.
In the upcoming issue of Our City, we profile local attorney Scott Dreher, who’s been instrumental in protecting the rights of the homeless for decades.