The biannual Point-in-Time Homeless Count numbers were released on Aug. 22, and at first glance they sound positive. The number of homeless individuals counted this year was 2,422, representing a decrease of 415 from the last count in 2017, a 14.6 percent drop.
There were some mitigating factors happening when the count was made on Jan. 31, however. One was that it had rained the night before.
Critics of the Point-in-Time census have long complained that the requirement by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to perform counts in late January skews the actual number of homeless people lower. They argue that many people remain hidden in bad weather, finding ways to get indoors or undercover.
For better or worse, those numbers are used to determine how many state and federal dollars will be sent to a particular region.
Another factor that day was that the Coalition of Homeless Providers, the nonprofit organization tasked by the state and federal governments to perform the census, had only seven guides—homeless people paid to lead volunteers to encampments—working on the Monterey Peninsula, fewer than during past counts, the Weekly reported. Which may account for why some areas where homeless people were counted in previous years, Del Rey Oaks, for example, showed zero this year.
The Coalition offered other more positive reasons why the county may have been lower, including: an increase in a general assistance grant to homeless individuals from $133 to $340 a month in August 2017; the opening of two new housing developments in Salinas, 41-unit Dai-Ichi Village for seniors and 50-unit Hikari for families, plus 22 permanent supportive housing units through the Veterans Transition Center; increased use of a referral system that helped 300 people with high needs find housing solutions; and, increased healthcare opportunities through the Whole Person Care Initiative.
Also listed were more shelter options added since 2017 through the Salinas Warming Shelter, Interim, Inc. and the VTC.
However, this year’s shelter count was down from the two previous counts. This year 592 individuals were in shelters, compared to 724 in 2017 and 678 in 2015. In January, 24 percent of those counted were sheltered, slightly down from 26 percent in 2017.
Seaside’s homeless count was up 86 percent compared to 2017, not surprising considering the noticeable increase in sightings of homeless individuals around the Roberts Lake and Laguna Grande Regional Park areas, among other locations. Seaside is set to get the first shelter on the Monterey Peninsula by next year thanks to the state's Housing Emergency Assistance Program.
Soledad saw the most dramatic increase, 169 percent, from 26 to 70. Monterey saw a decrease of 40 percent.
Other statistics noted by the Coalition include an increase in the number of people 51 and older experiencing homelessness, from 23 percent to 40 percent.
Nearly 600 people were counted as members of a family with children experiencing homelessness, approximately 25 percent of the population compared to 19 percent in 2017—although the Coalition warns that only one of 24 school districts participated this time around, compared to 10 last time.
Increases were also noted in the number of chronically homeless individuals with one or more disabling conditions—23 percent compared to 21 percent—and the number of veterans, which increased from four percent to seven percent.
“The decline in the number of people living without housing that was identified in the Homeless Census should provide some cautious optimism that the focus of local and state leaders on addressing the homeless crisis is having an impact – but there is still a long way to go,” interim Coalition Executive Officer Elliott Robinson said in a press release.
“The findings from the Homeless Census which counted a decline doesn’t change the ongoing urgency to continue working towards long term solutions toward ending the cycle of homelessness in our community,” he said.