Homelessness jumped 35% in one Bay Area county. Here’s what new data reveals about the evolution of the housing crisis

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The homeless population has increased significantly in several Bay Area counties during the pandemic – with Contra Costa County seeing a 35% increase and Alameda County reporting a 22% increase – while the number fell slightly in San Francisco, according to new data released Monday.

The figures come from one-day one-time surveys conducted earlier this year, many of which had been delayed by the pandemic, and reflected uneven results in regional efforts to manage the homelessness crisis.

Neighboring affluent Marin County reported a smaller 8% increase in homeless residents, along with a 5% gain in Sonoma and a 3% increase in Santa Clara. Other neighboring jurisdictions were due to release their own figures later on Monday.

Public officials and affordable housing advocates have touted these figures as proof that the region has avoided a catastrophic increase in the number of people on the streets. But activists and some of those who lived outside during the turmoil say the estimates mask a grimmer daily reality and a growing death toll.

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“While we are disappointed with the increase in numbers despite our best efforts, we are not surprised,” Marin County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Katie Rice said in a statement. “We are only just beginning to recover from a pandemic emergency in which those who have the least have suffered the most.”

The biggest spike came in Contra Costa County, highlighting the spreading housing crisis in the Bay Area. East Bay County’s homeless population has increased 35% during the pandemic, to 3,093 people, from 2,295 people in 2019.

In Alameda County, where homelessness has increased by 22%, some 7,135 people now sleep outdoors each night – more than half in cars or RVs and about 31% in tents – in addition of 2,612 people registered in local shelters. In wealthy Marin County, the number of people without stable housing rose to 1,121 in 2022 from 1,034 in 2019.

Pictures in San Francisco and Santa Clara County were more mixed. In San Francisco, the number of overnight homeless people this year marked a 3.5% drop from the 8,035 counted homeless in 2019, when the city saw a 17% increase. In Santa Clara County, the number of people living outdoors decreased by 3%, but the total number of homeless people in the county increased by 3%, to 10,028 people living indoors and outside shelters, including some 6,739 people in San Jose.

“Bay Area governments and nonprofits have been strong advocates for homelessness during the pandemic, and we’ve more or less weathered the storm,” Tomiquia Moss, the group’s founder and CEO, said Monday. Regional Housing Advocacy All Home. “But now we must go on the attack and end the suffering on our streets.”

The numbers serve as a first litmus test for the unprecedented measures government agencies have taken to get people off the streets during the pandemic: paying hotel rooms, sanctioned tent cities, small settlement villages and all manner of sweeps of camps. They also point to the familiar warnings from housing researchers that narrow one-day surveys used to calculate federal homelessness funding often underestimate the true population of homeless people.

This is especially true as pandemic eviction disputes spill over to illegal homes of last resort, like marinas and garages, as California faces a shortage of some 2.4 million homes for low-income households. And even before this week’s tally, researchers at UCSF and elsewhere have warned that the homeless death toll is rising – more than doubling in San Francisco, to 331 deaths in the first 12 months of the pandemic alone. coronavirus pandemic, from March 2020 to March 2021.

James Hellard saw the devastation up close. Things have gone from bad to worse for the longtime North Bay resident during the pandemic.

He said in a recent federal lawsuit — one of several filed by homeless Bay residents and their attorneys currently in court — that authorities seized the car he was living in for fuel and alcohol issues. ‘registration. It forced him into a tent at what he told a court was an “unsafe and unsanitary” encampment under a San Rafael highway near Yacht Club Drive.

In addition to the thunder of traffic and emissions from passing cars, Hellard said he’s lost 27 friends who died outdoors in the past year, many of them due to unknowingly ingesting, then an overdose of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.

“They’re touting the numbers going down,” Hellard said. “It’s because we’re all dying.”

Monday’s updated homeless counts were released as part of a coordinated effort across counties to highlight the regional and national scale of the problem – an effort to unite amid intensified debate over the whether cities, counties or state officials have the responsibility or the ability to respond. As state and county agencies receive more funding for large-scale social services, much of the day-to-day policing of encampments and life-and-death issues like fires falls to law enforcement. local order and public works crews.

The new figures also come amid contentious budget negotiations over the amount of housing and homelessness expected to be in a record $97.5 billion surplus. In an updated budget proposal last week, Governor Gavin Newsom recommended $9.3 billion in total funding for homeless housing and related services, from behavioral health care to homeless conversion projects. motel.

Last year, Newsom allocated $12 billion to address homelessness. Yet recent public inquiries by business groups like the Bay Area Council have consistently detected ‘deep unease’ over ‘what looks like an unending homelessness crisis’.

Lauren Hepler, JD Morris and Sarah Ravani are the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: lauren.hepler@sfchronicle.com Twitter @LAHepler

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