A homeless man sleeps in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone
A homeless man sleeps in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

The official count of homelessness in San Diego County found at least 8,427 individuals — a 10% increase over two years — the Regional Task Force on Homeless reported Thursday.

Volunteers fanning out at 3:45 a.m. on Feb. 24 found 4,106 homeless individuals on the streets and counted 4,321 in shelters.

But organizers cautioned this was probably an undercount due to heavy rains the night before and frigid temperatures on the morning of the count that may have caused those sleeping outside to seek shelter.

The federally mandated Point in Time Count was last take in 2020 and postponed in 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“These data points give context to a crisis we already see with our own eyes,” said Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, who represents the county on the task force’s advisory board. “The homelessness crisis has changed a lot in two years, and with this information we can do a better job of providing the right kind of help based on people’s unique problems, or better yet, make sure they never lose their home in the first place.”

The task force noted some improvements in the homeless situation, including a 30% decrease in the veteran homeless population and a 7% decrease in the chronic homeless population versus 2020.

Task force CEO Tamera Kohler said San Diego’s housing costs continued to be cited as a major reason for homelessness.

“The people our volunteers spoke to — from a senior with Alzheimer’s sleeping in a tent, to a family sheltering in their car, to people with a full time job but not enough income to pay rent — aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet,” she said. “They’re our neighbors, doing their best to survive.”

Deacon Jim Vargas, president and CEO at Father Joe’s Villages, one of San Diego’s largest homelessness services providers, said problems could compound with increasing cost of living.

“These numbers reflect the increase in need for affordable housing and comprehensive programs amidst the rapid inflation and skyrocketing rent and housing prices in San Diego,” he said. “When the cost of living goes up, more people are susceptible to enter or be at risk of homelessness.

“Right now, with the line for our food pantry stretching a quarter mile long, we know people are being heavily impacted by inflation and housing costs,” Vargas said. “Low-income families are more susceptible than ever to fall into homelessness.”

The count saw an increase in families experiencing homelessness, up 56% from 2020. Black San Diegans, who make up under 5% of the total population in San Diego County, made up 24% of the region’s unsheltered homeless population.

Paul Downey, CEO of the nonprofit Serving Seniors, noted that a quarter of those homeless were aged 55 and older, with half becoming homeless for the first time in 2022. The oldest person surveyed was 87. 

“Sadly, these numbers are not a surprise,” said Downey. “Based on my personal participation in February’s count and on our needs assessment survey, combined with the demand for our services, this is exactly what we expected.

Updated at 5:15 p.m., Thursday, May 19, 2022

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.