SLO County’s homeless population rises — here’s what the latest count found

San Luis Obispo County’s homeless count is up by almost a third since its last census — a trend officials are seeing throughout California, according to a newly released report.

The county in January conducted its biannual point-in-time count, a one-day survey of the area’s homeless population required of all regions that receive federal aid money.

The census counted 1,483 people experiencing homelessness, up nearly 32% from the 1,125 people counted in 2017, according to the results released on Thursday.

During the last point-in-time count, officials believed heavy, drought-ending rain kept people off the streets and may have skewed the results.

“We expected some increase, because heavy rains in 2017 would have caused more people to seek shelter rather than remain in riverbeds and other waterways where they normally would have stayed,” Laurel Weir, county homeless services coordinator, said in a statement.

“Local agencies also reported an average increase in the number of homeless persons seeking assistance. Many similar communities across California are also seeing a rise in homelessness.”

The 2019 results represent a decline from 2013, when 2,186 people were counted, and 2015, when 1,515 people were counted.

Down the coast, Santa Barbara County saw a 3% decline in its homeless population, while Ventura County counted 45% more people, according to a Hub for Urban Initiatives map.

Los Angeles County saw a 7.3% uptick in its homeless count, and Orange County experienced a jump of 43%.

Hub for Urban Initiatives

More SLO County shelters?

San Luis Obispo County is in the process of developing more homeless shelters and transitional housing facilities.

There are only two permanent homeless shelters in the county — the 40 Prado center in San Luis Obispo and the El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO) shelter in Atascadero — together, they provide about 150 beds, according to the report.

The county Board of Supervisors in April allocated $4.6 million in state grant funding for a 36-bed warming shelter in Paso Robles and a youth dormitory and supportive housing facility in Grover Beach.

However, the South County project has encountered significant community opposition. The Paso Robles facility requires additional funding and likely won’t be complete until 2021, according to a recent city staff report.

Homeless population snapshot

In San Luis Obispo County, nearly 40% of the homeless population lives in San Luis Obispo, about 32% lives in the North County, 14% lives in the South County and about 15% lives on the North Coast.

Most live in San Luis Obispo or unincorporated areas, followed by Paso Robles, Atascadero, Morro Bay, Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande and Pismo Beach.

Seventy-four percent of those experiencing homelessness lived in San Luis Obispo County before losing their housing, and 44% have lived in the area for 10 years or more.

Men make up the majority of the homeless population — 68% — and most are white and 25 or older.

Only 21% of the homeless are sheltered, meaning they live in an emergency shelter or transitional housing. The remainder live on the street, in vehicles, in encampment areas and in abandoned buildings.

Job loss, alcohol or drug use and eviction were the top three reasons those surveyed became homeless. Unaffordable rents, a lack of income and no money for moving costs were the top three obstacles to obtaining permanent housing.

“Rising rents may have played a role in the local increase in homelessness, because increased rental housing costs extend the time people experience homelessness by making it harder to find housing,” Weir said. “Data from local emergency shelters indicate that the length of time people remained in shelters increased from 2017 to 2018.”

To read the full 2019 point-in-time count report, visit slocounty.ca.gov.

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Lindsey Holden writes about housing, North County communities and everything in between for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. She became a staff writer in 2016 after working for the Rockford Register Star in Illinois. Lindsey is a native Californian raised in the Midwest and earned degrees from DePaul and Northwestern universities.