Homelessness down in county, but up in local cities

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - 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.

However, 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.

The report does not discuss why it believes these areas have seen an increase.

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 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. 

The Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) Homeless Programs Unit has commissioned the bi-annual homeless counts since 2005.

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. 

"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 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." 

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 here.

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