he numbers have confirmed what many already suspected.
Homelessness has increased in San Diego County, and it’s especially apparent in several cities where tents and makeshift structures fill sidewalks, canyons and freeway offramps.
Results of the first homeless count in two years, released Thursday, found the number of people living in vehicles or outdoors without shelter increased 9 percent in the city of San Diego. In Oceanside, where city officials have introduced a hotel voucher program and plan to open a shelter, the number of people on the street increased 31 percent. In National City, where the San Diego Rescue Mission plans to open a shelter next year, the number of people living without shelter increased 19 percent.
In all, homelessness in San Diego County has increased 10 percent since January 2020, according to the report released by the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness. The actual number is likely much higher, officials said, and it could worsen as pandemic housing subsidies and protections expire.
The Feb. 24 count found 8,427 homeless people in San Diego County, with just over half in shelters. The other 4,106 were living outside of shelters, a 3 percent increase from 2020. Of that number, 713 were in vehicles.
The count usually is done annually, but this was the first since January 2020 because of the pandemicand it showed the crisis persists despite increased efforts to get more people off the street.
Since the last count, the city has purchased two extended-stay hotels and converted them to permanent housing for more than 400 formerly homeless people, Father Joe’s Villages has opened a 407-unit affordable housing project, and the city and county have worked together to increase outreach teams and other efforts.
“But even with all of that, our numbers have increased,” said Tamera Kohler, president and CEO of the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, the agency that coordinates the count.
“We have more people, we have more unsheltered, we have more challenges, and it is a little bit more miserable out there than I have seen in years.”
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said he wasn’t surprised at the increase.
“We see this with our own eyes every single day,” he said, adding that the pandemic likely contributed to the increased homeless population, which is happening throughout the state.
“The numbers could have been larger, frankly,” Gloria said.
Like Kohler, Gloria noted that the increase in homelessness happened despite many efforts to address it, but he is hopeful that new programs, more shelter beds and additional housing will improve next year’s numbers.
The city has added 271 shelter beds in the past year, a 25 percent increase, bringing the total to 1,468. An additional 450 beds are coming in the next few months, including a 125-bed shelter in the Midway area, a 40-bed women’s shelter and a 182-bed shelter for seniors and families that will be in two sites that have not yet been announced.
“Now, is it enough?” Gloria said. “No, it’s not. But I think it demonstrates a commitment with the city to acknowledge the problem.”
Of the 4,321 people counted in shelters in this year’s report, 3,036 people were in emergency shelters such as the large tents operated by the Alpha Project, 1,249 were in transitional housing and 36 in a safe-haven, temporary housing for people in rehab programs.
As usual, the city of San Diego had the largest population of homeless people in the county, with 2,307 people in shelters and 2,494 living without shelter.