Homelessness count increases by 3% from last year, Point-in-Time Count reveals

The volunteers found no less than 10,605 people in the count, which included 6,110 unsheltered and 4,495 people in shelters and transitional housing

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The number of people experiencing homelessness in San Diego County in 2024 increased by an estimated 3% over the previous year, according to data released Wednesday from January's Point-in-Time Count.

The count, conducted by more than 1,700 volunteers spread across San Diego County through the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, is a one-day snapshot of the minimum number of people experiencing homelessness throughout the region. The volunteers found no less than 10,605 people in the count, which included 6,110 unsheltered and 4,495 people in shelters and transitional housing.

Those numbers -- while nominally less than in 2023 -- do include an 18% increase in unsheltered people.

In 2023, the number jumped up around 20% from the previous year.

"While a 3% increase is encouraging, we counted more people in unsheltered conditions across the region," said RTFH CEO Tamera Kohler. "We're seeing a significant increase in people living in their cars. This year's numbers suggest we have a continuing need for more sheltering options and support for the efforts many cities are now taking to combat this crisis.

"We must focus on populations like seniors, veterans, and people living in cars, where proven housing strategies can make a difference in the months and years ahead," she said.

According to the count, the number of homeless people increased by around 200 in each region of the county. The numbers also reflect a 44% increase in people living in their cars and a decrease in shelter or other temporary housing options.

"The 18% increase in those without shelter means that there are many more people living on the streets this year than last," said Deacon Jim Vargas, president and CEO at Father Joe's Villages. "It is crucial that we continue working toward expanding the number of shelter types available, including adding detox beds that can help those with substance use disorder move toward recovery. Additionally, we must prioritize the building of affordable housing throughout our region."

RTFH leaders said they weren't surprised by the count's findings, owing to a loss of federal emergency funding, including hotel/motel vouchers, and a shift toward safe sleeping and safe parking sites in several communities.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, safe sleeping and safe parking sites count as being unsheltered. In San Diego alone, 472 people were counted in the safe sleeping sites, and 285 individuals were in the safe parking sites.

"San Diegans should feel cautious optimism about this data," said RTFH Board Chair Ray Ellis. "While we are still seeing too many experiencing homelessness for the first time, our region is making the right kind of investments in critical system infrastructure and programs that make a difference."

NBC 7's Audra Stafford explains what the numbers mean

Monthly reports created by RTFH show the region has not seen a month since March 2022 when more individuals exited homelessness than experienced homelessness for the first time, a 25-month streak.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said that sustained efforts were working to bring down the total number, but more work was needed -- citing several projects he was pushing.

"While this trend is promising, it is further proof that now is not the time to retreat or become stagnant in our efforts to address homelessness, but rather to double down," he said. "It is all the more reason why the city of San Diego must follow through on my proposal to add 1,000 shelter beds to our homeless services system, transform H Barracks into a Safe Parking lot for people living in their vehicles, and continue to build more housing.

"Homelessness can only be solved with an unwavering commitment to the measures that work," Gloria said.

Additionally, the report finds, that from October 2022 to September 2023, the region's homeless response system interacted with more than 46,000 individuals, up from 41,000 the previous year.

"I hope this is the high water mark," said Continuum of Care Advisory Board Chair Pastor Rolland Slade. "Our board is proud of the work that communities, non-profits, religious groups and others are embracing.

"Vista opening up a navigation center, the county increasing funding for RTFH's diversion practice, Imperial Beach hiring a full-time outreach worker - these actions add up and are crucial to slowing down what has been an accelerated crisis," he said. "There's a lot more work to do but this is good progress."

Volunteers ask demographic questions of people they find experiencing homelessness. In 2024's report, they began the reporting of Hispanic ethnicity along with race for the first time.

According to the report's data, seniors experiencing homelessness saw less than a 1% decrease, while those found at Caltrans sites declined by 10%. A total of 81% of all those counted in the region said they first experienced homelessness in the county.

The 2024 count reports the number of San Diego County residents experiencing homelessness who are age 55 and older trending up at 30% of those counted, up from 29% in 2023 and 25% in 2022.

"Almost half of all older adults experiencing homelessness are homeless for the first time in their lives, and nearly half are disabled," said Serving Seniors CEO Paul Downey. "We also see a 15% increase in adults over 55 living in their vehicles, which is a troubling trend. One in five older adults experiencing homelessness is using a car or other vehicle as housing.

"The camping ban has merely redistributed the population of people who are homeless. Spreading out the problem is not humane nor cost effective," Downey said, referencing the ordinance in the city of San Diego passed in July 2023 which bans camps near schools, shelters and transit hubs, in parks, and -- if shelter beds are available -- on public sidewalks. The county is drafting a similar law.

The oldest person found experiencing unsheltered homelessness was an 85-year-old Hispanic woman.

"Our biggest challenge remains the sky-high cost of housing across our region," Kohler said. "The long-term need for abundant housing for people of all income levels remains apparent. There are still too few units and too much need.

"Yet I'm heartened by this report. There are interventions for many of the populations we've seen an increase in that can make a real difference," she said. "Communities across the county, from Vista to National City, San Diego to La Mesa, are leaning into game-changer solutions. If we can keep people housed, quickly end homelessness for those sleeping in their cars, and continue to target vulnerable populations, San Diego has a fighting chance to see real change moving forward."

In 2023, the count found no less than 10,264 individuals experiencing homelessness across the region. This number included 5,171 unsheltered San Diegans with 5,093 individuals in shelters and transitional housing.

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