You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Long-awaited Bay Area homelessness numbers show a worsening crisis

Mercury News 5/16/2022 Marisa Kendall

Multiple Bay Area counties saw their homeless populations swell during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new data released Monday, despite an increase in federal and state funding for new shelters, housing and other resources.

But officials say it could have been worse. They credit pandemic aid programs with preventing a catastrophic surge in homelessness during a time when many low-income workers lost their jobs.

The much-anticipated new data comes from a Bay Area-wide census conducted in February. Santa Clara County counted 10,028 unhoused residents — up 3% from the last tally in 2019. Alameda County counted 9,747 people — up 22% from three years prior. Contra Costa County saw the biggest jump, counting 3,093 unhoused people this year — up 35% from 2019.

The data comes at a time when encampments have exploded throughout the Bay Area, voters consistently rank homelessness as the region’s biggest problem, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has made the issue a top priority. California’s homelessness crisis is arguably the worst in the nation — as of 2020, more than half of all Americans living outside were residents of the Golden State.

Among the four Bay Area counties that released their results, San Francisco was the only one to see a reduction. San Francisco counted 7,754 people — a drop of nearly 4%. San Mateo County planned to release its results on Friday.

Charts showing the change in the homeless population of several Bay Area counties between 2019 and 2022. Also shows the change for Oakland and San Jose. © Provided by Mercury News Charts showing the change in the homeless population of several Bay Area counties between 2019 and 2022. Also shows the change for Oakland and San Jose. While the numbers remain large — indicating a clear need for more aid — officials in Santa Clara, Alameda and San Francisco counties on Monday said they represent progress. All three saw much more dramatic increases during the last census in 2019. Santa Clara County’s homeless population grew 31% between 2017 and 2019, while Alameda County’s grew by 43% and San Francisco’s grew by 17%.

“So we consider this to be a huge success,” said Chelsea Andrews, executive director of Alameda County’s EveryOne Home, “and a direct reflection of the additional resources that were infused into our system.”

A flood of federal and state pandemic funding paid for everything from hotel rooms and tiny homes for unhoused people to rental relief for households falling behind on their bills. But even with those extra resources, people continued to become homeless faster than they could be housed. And as many pandemic programs end, local officials worry funding will dry up and they’ll struggle to continue the progress they’ve made in getting residents off the streets.

“Although the numbers in the point in time count are better than we anticipated, homelessness still continues to be our region’s and our state’s biggest challenge,” said Tomiquia Moss, founder and CEO of All Home, an organization that focuses on ending homelessness Bay Area-wide.

And while new pandemic programs — including Newsom’s Project Roomkey, which sheltered people in hotels, and Homekey, which turned hotels, dorms and other buildings into housing — didn’t reduce homelessness in most counties, they did result in a higher percentage of unhoused people having a roof over their head.

In San Jose, more than a third of the city’s 6,739 homeless residents were sleeping in shelters and transitional housing instead of on the street — up from 19% three years ago. Oakland saw a similar increase.

“While I am heartened to see our investments begin to pay dividends with fewer people on our streets, we must do more,” Jacky Morales-Ferrand, San Jose’s housing director, said in a statement. “We must continue investing in the development of new affordable housing, and we must do everything in our power to prevent our neighbors from falling into homelessness.”

San Francisco saw a 15% drop in people sleeping outside, and an 18% increase in people in shelters and transitional housing.

More detailed data about all five counties’ homeless populations, including racial demographics, the length of time people have been homeless and more, is expected to come out this summer.

The federally mandated point in time counts, which take place across the country every two years, tally everyone observed sleeping outside, in a tent or car, or in a shelter on a specific night. The data is far from perfect, as it’s easy for counters to miss people sleeping in remote areas or crashing on a friend’s couch. But it helps determine how much federal funding Bay Area counties receive for homelessness programs, and how that funding is used. This year’s count is considered particularly important, because it’s the first time in three years the unhoused population has been counted. The count scheduled for 2021 was cancelled due to concerns about spreading COVID.

Oakland’s homeless population increased by nearly a quarter over the past three years, to 5,055. Nearly half of the people sleeping outside on the streets of Alameda County live in Oakland.

Numbers released last week reveal Alameda County would need $2.5 billion — and 24,000 new housing units — to end homelessness in the county by 2026.

San Jose counted 6,739 unhoused people in the city this year — up 11% from 2019.

Related Articles

“As unreliable as these numbers are, they confirm what we all see – which is that we need to move faster,” said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.

The city counted 134 families without homes — up 37% from 2019 — while the number of homeless youth dropped 42%.

Santa Clara County last year announced a plan to house every homeless family with children by 2025.

Newsom poured $12 billion into homeless housing and services statewide last year, and has proposed spending an additional $2.7 billion in this year’s budget. But the mayors of the state’s 13 largest cities have urged Newsom to provide more flexible funding that cities and counties can spend as they please. Some officials worry that as one-time pandemic grants run out, they will be left without the resources to keep running and expanding new COVID-era shelter and housing programs.

“I think that that’s a very real fear,” said Kerry Abbott, Alameda County’s director of homeless care and coordination. “As we’re seeing the end of the declared health emergency, we know that there will be resources that are no longer available.”

AdChoices
AdChoices
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon