The number of homeless people living in Riverside County dropped 16 percent compared to two years ago, and the number of chronically homeless fell by 17 percent, according to a countywide survey conducted Jan. 28.
The Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) Homeless Programs Unit has commissioned the bi-annual counts since 2005, when they were first required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The "point in time" count totaled 2,467 adults and children, compared to the 2,978 counted in 2013.
The 2015 count enlisted help from 533 community volunteers and staff from more than 130 participating cities; Riverside County; agencies involved in law enforcement and social services, faith-based and non-profit work; and homeless individuals, who served as guides to identify and count other homeless people. The early morning survey counted people living on streets, in shelters and abandoned buildings, at freeway overpasses and underpasses, in vehicles, encampments and other areas.
The recent survey identified 1,587 people who were homeless and not living in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program. The remaining 880 is a preliminary count of adults and children living in temporary shelter. The totals showed a continued decrease in the homeless population over previous years and, compared to 2013, a 17 percent drop in the number of people surveyed who were chronically homeless. Under the HUD definition, a chronically homeless person has been homeless at least four or more times in the last three years. According to HUD, the chronically homeless tend to have higher rates of severe mental illness and substance abuse that are exacerbated by physical illness, injury or trauma.
Similar to the 2013 count, this year's survey methodology tallied every person who was contacted and identified themselves as homeless. Data was collected for each adult instead of using a random sampling, as was done in previous years. This year, there also was a focus on counting people believed to be homeless who were observed at church feeding programs and other locations where services were provided. Those numbers were included when volunteer surveyors could not go into areas because of safety reasons or limited access.
DPSS Director Susan von Zabern said the overall reductions in homelessness, specifically for those who are chronically homeless, indicate the network of service providers is having significant impact. Called the County of Riverside Continuum of Care, the network includes local cities, the county, nonprofit organizations, faith-based and other community-based organizations.
“We are beginning to see a trend in the right direction as we work to end homelessness in our county,” she said.
Von Zabern said the overall decrease may be attributable to new funding by HUD to create 459 new permanent housing beds for homeless individuals and families throughout the county – a 63 percent increase from 2013 to 2015. Continuum of Care programs also show promise in moving chronically homeless people into permanent housing, and then providing services to address barriers that can keep them in homelessness.
Von Zabern said coordination among the network’s providers has been strengthened and that increased funding has been focused on preventing homelessness and on helping individuals and families become quickly placed in permanent housing and given temporary rental assistance and supportive services to help them remain housed.
The Riverside County 2015 Homeless Count and Subpopulation Survey will be released by April 30 and can be found on the DPSS website at: http://dpss.co.riverside.ca.us. A breakout of each city and unincorporated area is attached.