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Crafting North County: Solving Homelessness, Part III

In my investigation of North County’s homeless epidemic, I’ve examined some of the public and private agencies addressing the issue.

Now, I’ll take an in-depth look at the numbers behind our homeless population, and share what the data reveals.

Once a year, the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless organizes a countywide “Point in Time Count” of the homeless population.

Volunteers are assigned areas to identify and survey sheltered and unsheltered individuals, collecting responses to key questions that can help agencies refine their outreach efforts and services. Survey data is geographically aggregated to the city level, allowing us to take a unique look at the population trends for North County.

In 2015, less than a quarter (17.8 percent) of San Diego County’s 8,506 homeless population lives in North County cities or unincorporated neighborhoods. In fact, the vast majority of homeless (63.3 percent) live in the city of San Diego.

Most (67 percent) of the North County homeless are “sheltered,” meaning on the night of the count they were living in emergency shelters (domestic violence shelter, housing vouchers), safe havens, or in transitional housing.

Comparatively, only half (50 percent) of the City of San Diego’s homeless population is sheltered.

Escondido is home to North County’s largest homeless population (430), followed by Oceanside (420), Vista (349), and Encinitas (123). Comparing year-to-year data, most North County cities saw reductions in their homeless populace, with a few exceptions. San Marcos stood out with the largest year-to-year increase, from 6 individuals counted in 2014, to 82 this year; these figures seem to mostly reflect the recent inclusion of people in transitional housing.

Among the unsheltered population, Oceanside has the largest number of individuals in hand-built structures or tents (13), and Encinitas has the largest population of individuals living in vehicles (36). Compare these numbers to the City of San Diego, where 543 homeless were found living in cars, vans or RVs, and 248 dwelling in hand-built structures or tents.

Countywide, volunteers identified 625 individuals as unaccompanied homeless youth 25 years of age or younger, and 1,381 military veterans.

What to make of these numbers? The population data is a sobering reminder of the magnitude of San Diego’s homeless epidemic — North County is home to only a small fraction of the greater regional population. Still, it is up to us to find local solutions to sheltering individuals, and transitioning the homeless back into society and the workforce.

While our part of the county is more successful than the City in sheltering the homeless, there is still a great need for more participating landlords and shelter space in North County. Volunteers too are needed to help in small and big ways. This crisis is far from solved — but knowing where we stand gives us a place to start.

Vince Vasquez is a policy analyst at an economic think tank based in Torrey Pines. He is a Carlsbad resident.