A survey of homeless people in Riverside County showed a 31 percent decrease countywide compared to a similar count two years ago. The "point in time" count totaled 2,978 adults and children, compared to a 2011 count of 4,321.
The 2013 federally mandated countywide count took place early in the morning on Jan. 23 and enlisted the help of over 400 community volunteers; more than double the number during the 2011 count. People taking surveys included staff and volunteers from more than 70 participating cities, the county, agencies involved in law enforcement, social services, faith‑based and non‑profit work 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). This year, DPSS contracted with an independent firm, Urban Initiatives, a non‑profit, non‑partisan organization, to conduct the count and survey.
Urban Initiatives founder and Chief Executive Officer, Joe Colletti, said some of the strategies used in the county during the past few years have helped move more homeless individuals and families into permanent housing. The county has implemented programs that have been proven to get chronically homeless people into permanent housing first and then work to provide supportive services that address barriers that can keep a person in homelessness. Those barriers include mental illness, substance abuse and domestic violence. (The strategies used locally are described in the Riverside County 2013 Homeless Count and Survey report.)
"Riverside County has a good story to tell about how it is ending homelessness," Colletti said of this year's decrease in homelessness compared to 2011.
The report said a strengthened network of providers and increased funding that has focused on preventing homelessness and helping individuals and families who are homeless become "rapidly re‑housed" through temporary, one‑time assistance are factors that have attributed to the decrease. This network, called the County of Riverside Continuum of Care, is a collaborative of local cities, the county, nonprofit organizations, faith-based and other community-based organizations that work together to help eliminate homelessness.
According to the report, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding has helped create 324 additional beds of permanent supportive housing in the county between 2010 to 2013 -- a 79 percent increase from previous years.
DPSS Director Susan Loew said the Continuum’s efforts to expand services and to enhance the overall delivery of services for homeless individuals and families showed in this year’s count. “I appreciate and recognize the good work that is being done by the Continuum,” said Loew, adding that “the results of this year’s count shows these efforts are beginning to make a positive impact in ending homelessness in our county.”
Amid the good news, the decrease in homelessness compared to 2011 might be somewhat attributable to different methodologies that make the data in the 2011 and 2013 counts difficult to compare directly. The 2011 count extrapolated the total number of homeless people, in part, by using a multiplying factor for people who survey takers found and were believed to be homeless, even if that appearance could not be directly confirmed. The 2011 methodology, showed an 84 percent increase countywide (6,203 persons) from 2009, based on the multipliers.
This year's methodology tallied every person who counters contacted and who identified themselves as homeless. Data was collected for each adult instead of using a random sampling, as was done in previous years. A breakout of this has been done for each city and unincorporated area.
The methods used to conduct homeless counts in both 2007 and 2009 are similar to those used in this year's count, said Colletti, who conducted and/or assisted with both counts. The bi‑annual homeless count and survey helps cities and the county implement effective strategies to fight homelessness. Collecting baseline data is essential to understand what causes homelessness and how to create effective solutions.
"The 2007 and 2009 counts offer a better comparison to 2013," Colletti said. There is still a decrease, however it is much more gradual. (A comparison of previous counts is included in the attached chart).
While there was a decrease countywide and a majority of the cities and unincorporated areas showed decreases compared to 2011, there were a few jurisdictions that had increases in their homeless populations. These areas are mostly in the eastern region of the county and include: Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, Indio, Palm Springs, Mecca and Thousand Palms. There were also increases in Hemet, Wildomar and Idyllwild. (See attachment for a breakout of each city and unincorporated area).
Last year, the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services received about $7.5 million from HUD to fund homeless services that include street outreach, transitional and permanent supportive housing for homeless individuals. The funding also supports the county's Continuum of Care, a collaborative of local cities, the county, nonprofit organizations, faith‑based and other community based organizations that work together to help eliminate homelessness.
The Riverside County 2013 Homeless Count and Subpopulation Survey can be accessed at http://dpss.co.riverside.ca.us/files/pdf/riverside-county2013homelesscountandsubpopulationsurvey-6.3.pdf