San Diego

Homelessness Knows No Bounds; San Diego's Numbers Go Higher

San Diego's homeless population shows no signs of shrinking. And it's spread far beyond the city limits.

San Diego's homeless population shows no signs of shrinking, and it's spread far beyond the city limits.

Civic leaders gathered downtown Thursday to break out the numbers, vowing to work harder and smarter to curb that growth.

Doing the best they could over ten days earlier this year, 1,600 volunteers went in search of the homeless in dozens of places around the county.

An annual head count is required for federal funding to reverse a dynamic that’s become too big for too long.

More than 9,000 people, countywide, were officially tabulated as homeless.

That's a five percent increase over 2016’s findings.

But the city of San Diego's total was up 10 percent, with those listed as "unsheltered" increasing by 18 percent.

“These are very sobering figures,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said during a news conference in East Village. “We have to make homelessness our number one social services priority across this region.”

Surveyors reported seeing a lot of mental health, drug use and disability issues – plus a larger number of tents and makeshift shelters than last year, especially downtown.

One bright spot was a nine percent drop in homeless veterans, part of a 29 percent decrease in their numbers since special housing programs were launched in 2013.

“Our veterans system is much more ‘housing-first’ focused than the rest of our system,” said homeless advocate Michael McConnell. “All they have to do is embrace housing-first throughout the entire system and we can get all of those numbers going in the right direction.

In recent weeks, Father Joe's Villages and the Alpha Project have stepped up with major plans for long-term housing.

“A lot more people are getting out and learning about the issue,” McConnell noted. “And hopefully the leadership will come together to make a big dent on the overall population."

Civic leaders say the county is being short-changed by the $18 million a year it gets in federal grants to deal with homeless.

If a proposed hotel tax hike passes in a November special election, the city could reap $15 million a year for that.

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