A survey of homeless people in Riverside County showed a 12 percent decrease countywide compared to a similar count one year ago. The "point in time" count totaled 2,165 adults and children, compared to a 2015 count of 2,470.
The 2016 federally mandated count took place countywide, early in the morning on Jan. 26, and enlisted the help of about 503 community volunteers. People taking surveys included staff and volunteers from more than 130 participating agencies representing the county, cities, law enforcement, social services, faith-based and non-profit sectors and homeless individuals who acted as guides to identify and count other homeless people. Those counted were living on streets, in abandoned buildings, at freeway overpasses and underpasses, in vehicles, encampments and other areas. People in each of the county's homeless shelters also were counted.
The Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) Homeless Programs Unit has commissioned the bi-annual homeless counts since 2005, when they were first required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Since 2011, the county has seen sharp decreases in the number of homeless people counted. Between 2011 and 2016, there has been an overall 65 percent decrease.
In addition to the continued decrease in the number of homeless people counted as compared to previous years, another significant finding is a 25 percent decrease from 2015 among those who were unsheltered and indicated they were chronically homeless as defined by HUD, which means they must have a disability and have been homeless continuously for one year or at least four or more times in the last three years totaling one year. According to HUD, people who are chronically homeless tend to have higher rates of severe mental illness and substance abuse disorders that are exacerbated by physical illness, injury or trauma.
There was also a decrease – although very slight - in the number of unsheltered homeless veterans who were surveyed as compared to 2015, when 102 homeless veterans were counted. That number dropped to just 100 homeless veterans in the 2016 count.
The Obama administration and HUD set a national priority to end homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015, and chronic homelessness by the end of 2016. A national campaign and infusion of funding and resources such as consulting to counties and cities, has helped reduce the number of homeless veterans in the United States by 24 percent between 2013 and 2015.
In Riverside County, 323 homeless veterans were permanently housed in 2015. DPSS Director Susan von Zabern noted that the number of homeless veterans counted this year in eight cities was lower than last year. Those cities are Banning, Beaumont, Blythe, Coachella, Cathedral City, Palm Springs, Riverside and Temecula.
In the City of Riverside, Mayor Rusty Bailey announced in January that the city successfully housed 89 homeless veterans as part of the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, an Obama administration program that engages mayors nationwide.
“Although we were able to successfully help 323 homeless veterans, the fact that we still identified more than 100 homeless veterans indicates that we still need to do more to ensure that the support systems are in place and working to assist veterans as they transition back to civilian life,” von Zabern said.
von Zabern said the continued decrease in the overall homeless population is encouraging and indicates that the county’s network of homeless services providers continues to make a significant impact. This network, called the County of Riverside Continuum of Care, is collaboration among local cities, the county, nonprofit organizations, faith-based groups and other community-based organizations that work to help eliminate homelessness.
“We still have work to do but this year’s count means we continue to move the needle toward ending homelessness in our county,” she said, referring to the reductions since 2011.
Despite decreases countywide among the unsheltered homeless and in a majority of the cities and unincorporated areas, the homeless populations in a few cities increased since last year. They are Blythe, Coachella, Corona, Desert Hot Springs, Lake Elsinore, Menifee, Norco, Palm Desert, Perris, San Jacinto and Wildomar.
A breakout of each city and unincorporated area are attached. The Riverside County 2016 Homeless Count and Survey Report will be released by April 29 and can be accessed on the DPSS website at: http://dpss.co.riverside.ca.us.