Homeless in San Diego: Annual Count of Homeless Begins

Of the contacts made Thursday, 901 people were living on streets or sidewalks; 215 were living in their vehicle; 158 were in what is considered an encampment

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Early results from the annual point in time count of San Diego county’s homeless populations show an overwhelming 85% became homeless while living in San Diego.

Preliminary data also shows 21% of the homeless surveyed were female and there appears to be a troubling increase in homeless over the age of 55.

On Thursday, volunteers were out just after 4 a.m. contacting homeless living under tarps and tents. The volunteers offered socks, and gift cards to McDonald's and 7-Eleven for those willing to participate. As of 7 a.m., an online dashboard showed contact had been made to almost 2,000 unsheltered people.

Volunteers with the Downtown San Diego Partnership covered an area from East Village to Bankers Hill.

“What we’re seeing, I think the pandemic is going to give us some numbers that are higher than what we’ve seen in the past,” said Paul Downey with Serving Seniors.

Downey was among those volunteers asking questions ranging from name and age to ethnicity and whether they served in the military. In fact, early results showed 138 veterans were part of the count.

Downey also said he made contact with a large number of seniors, including one 77-year-old man.

“Most people have been cooperative, wanting to talk with us once we tell them why we’re doing the survey, but generally cooperative. But it’s been concerning to see how many seniors, particularly that are on the street,” said Downey.

While the numbers will be updated in the coming days, other preliminary information showed 629 people were white; 214 were Black; 40 identified themselves as American Indian.

Of the contacts made Thursday, 901 people were living on streets or sidewalks; 215 were living in their vehicle; 158 were in what is considered an encampment.

San Diego County is only required to conduct a homeless count every other year but typically conducts the county annually. Last year’s count, however, was postponed because of the pandemic.

The previous in time count in 2020 showed there were 7,638 total homeless in San Diego county. In 2019, the number of total homeless was 8,102, according to the Regional Task Force on Homelessness.

And while the count is required to secure federal funding, critics of the count argue it’s wildly inaccurate.

“Look around. The amount of homeless people has ballooned in San Diego, and so how much can they be using this information to do anything. I question that,” said Michael McConnell, a homeless advocate.

McConnell is also frustrated the city chose to resume enforcement of encampment laws weeks before the county. He pointed to the recently publicized encampment on Sports Arena Blvd in the Midway District.

Several weeks ago, there were more than 100 tents with more than 200 people in the area. McConnell says on the day of the count, the number was down to just 30 people.

It would have been a lot easier to send out some teams to survey and count some people right on this street. Instead, the city decided to do heavy enforcement and disperse people to who knows where.

The count will continue for several more days. Final numbers and demographic information will be compiled in a report by the Regional Task Force on Homelessness.

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