Volunteer counting homeless
A volunteer in Vista counts people living on the streets. Photo courtesy County News Center

The Regional Task Force on Homelessness announced Thursday that the official point-in-time survey for San Diego County in January found 10,264 homeless individuals – a 22% increase from the 2022 count.

The number included 5,093 people in shelters and transitional housing and 5,171 unsheltered individuals.

The 2023 WeAllCount Point-in-Time Count took place on Jan. 26 with more than 1,600 volunteers checking shelters, streets, encampments, cars and other locations across the county.

For the first time, volunteers were allowed to access Caltrans property, where 661 homeless were found. Excluding those individuals, the count showed a 14% increase from last year.

“These results show what’s been clear from our monthly reporting and from what we see on the streets – the region’s homeless system and providers simply cannot keep pace with the ever-increasing flow of people across the county falling into homelessness for a variety of reasons,” task force CEO Tamera Kohler said.

“The crisis we face was created over decades – years of overly restrictive housing policies, limited funding for homelessness, and more – and will not be solved overnight,” she said. “We can and must do better to meet this daunting challenge.”

Ray Ellis, chair of the task force’s board, cited a “worrying jump” in people experiencing homelessness for the first time despite more than 11,000 individuals moved into a home over the past year.

“This should be a clarion call to invest in what we know works,” he said. “We need a lot more housing, a lot more shelter beds, and additional funding for outreach and services.”

Officials cited some hopeful statistics. The number of families experiencing unsheltered homelessness decreased by 25%, and shelter capacity is growing significantly in the city of San Diego.

Mayor Todd Gloria has called on the City Council to pass an ordinance restricting homeless camping when shelter beds are available.

Not every city in the county saw an increase. Carlsbad reported a 13% decrease in the number of people experiencing homelessness.

“The Point-in-Time count provides a snapshot that, combined with other data, helps the city of Carlsbad get a better understanding of the population experiencing homelessness and how we can best direct resources to address this problem and its effects on our community,” said Mandy Mills, who heads up the Carlsbad’s new Housing and Homeless Services Department.

Additional data identified 29% of people living on the streets as women. People 55 or older now make up 29% of the region’s unsheltered population, with 46% of them experiencing homelessness for the first time.

“Similar to last year, the shocking growth in homelessness among San Diego County residents over age 55 is a significant component of the region’s homeless population,” said Melinda Forstey, chief operating officer of the nonprofit Serving Seniors. “While this is not unexpected, it is daunting and disappointing.”

City News Service contributed to this report.

Updated 6:15 p.m. June 8, 2023

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