A survey of homeless people in Riverside County showed an 84 percent increase compared to a similar count two years ago. The “point in time” count totaled 6,203 individuals, compared to the 2009 count of 3,366.
The 2011 federally mandated countywide count took place early in the morning on Jan. 24 and enlisted the help of 202 community volunteers, staff from participating cities and the county, and homeless individuals who acted as guides to identify and count homeless people. Those counted were found living on streets, in abandoned buildings, freeway over/underpasses, cars, RVs, encampments and other areas. Individuals at each of the county’s homeless shelters also were counted.
The dramatic increase in homelessness reflects the effects of the economic downturn that began around the time the last homeless count was done in 2009, said Ronald Stewart, deputy director of the county’s Department of Public Social Services.
“Record unemployment and housing foreclosures made Riverside County one of the hardest-hit areas in the state and nation. This year’s count clearly indicates the economic downturn has pushed more people out of their homes and has left them homeless longer,” he said.
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, Applied Survey Research (ASR) to do the count and administer a questionnaire to 384 homeless individuals who were asked specific questions about the circumstances surrounding their plight.
Some key findings in the 2011 count include:
- Homeless people are experiencing longer periods of homelessness compared to 2009 and 2007.
- Riverside County’s chronic homeless population* increased 160 percent since 2009.
- The number of unsheltered homeless grew from 61 percent in 2009 to 82 percent in 2011.
- The number of homeless veterans increased slightly from 13 percent in 2009 to 14 percent in 2011; however, of the veterans who reported experiencing post traumatic stress disorder, 88 percent indicated that the disorder prevents them from getting work and/or housing.
- Homeless respondents experiencing domestic violence or abuse increased from 8 percent in 2009 to 14 percent in 2011.
- The number of homeless who reported chronic health problems increased from 22 percent in 2009 to 29 percent in 2011.
- Those who experienced substance abuse increased from 30 percent in 2009 to 42 percent in 2011.
Each year, DPSS receives about $6.5 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 bi-annual homeless count and survey helps cities and the county implement effective strategies to mitigate homelessness. Collecting baseline data is essential in understanding the causes of homelessness and creating effective solutions.