Saturday, August 6, 2011

Still way too many left out in the cold

Homeless Census documents a rise in newly homeless, vehicularly housed as well as a return to former numbers

by Becky Johnson
August 6, 2011

Santa Cruz, CA. -- The 2011 Homeless Census and Survey for Santa Cruz County is out. The Santa Cruz Sentinel chose to highlight "a 22 percent increase in numbers" from 2009. But since the 2009 census was done in January whereas the 2007 census was done in late March, I didn't believe there ever was a drop in the homeless population.

In 2011, enumerators counted 2,771 homeless individuals in Santa Cruz County in one day. Authors claim that these numbers indicate that during the course of the year, 9041 will experience homelessness in Santa Cruz County. And if anyone thought we were anywhere near having enough shelter for them, the numbers indicate otherwise.

We see an enumeration of all conceivable shelter options available on January 25, 2011 on page 3 of the Executive summary.

378 emergency shelter spaces were identified.
268 transitional shelter spaces

So we have a total of 646 shelter spaces in use for the ENTIRE county leaving an enumerated 2,125 street count shut out of those spaces on that night. And on January 25th, we have our maximum shelter options available. But many of these shelters are only open in winter. So fewer spaces exist eight months of the year. Numerically this works out to shelter for 23% of those counted. But we know that these point-in-time counts are undercounts. Every last one.

And they state so. According to the report, "This count should be considered conservative since it is well known that even with the most thorough methodology, many homeless individuals stay in locations where they cannot be seen or counted by enumeration teams."

Those who were temporarily crashing on a friend's couch were not counted. Those who were living inside of an abandoned structure were not counted. Those who became homeless after January 25th were not counted. Those who were too deep into the woods when the count happened were not counted. In fact, laws like the camping ordinance and the anti-lodging law have the effect of causing homeless people to remain as invisible as possible in order to avoid a citation. So the gap between those without shelter and the number of shelter spaces available is much greater than reported. Past studies have put it at about 6% in summer.

According to the survey of 498 individuals who self-reported that they were homeless, 22% were found to be living in vehicles. 37% were camping out somewhere. Job loss was the highest reason given for becoming homeless (125 respondents). 63% said they had a disabling condition. 28% said they had been homeless for 3 years or more indicating a continued rise in chronic homelessness.

One of the biggest surprises was the number of people experiencing homelessness for the first time: 52% of the respondents said they were experiencing homelessness for the very first time, which was a 6% rise from 2009.

24% of the women were victims of domestic violence. 38% said they were experiencing a substance abuse problem. 11% identified themselves as veterans. They also reported that 65% of the population is on some form of government service, with Food Stamps (42%) being the most common form of aid. However 35% reported receiving no government aid at all.

So we know that the number of people experiencing homelessness remains high, that it is disproportionately male (67%), and that most people homeless in Santa Cruz County last had housing in Santa Cruz County (67%).

This information was gleaned from the Executive Summary. When I've read the entire report, I'll post an update.

The executive summary can be viewed online here.

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