A new homeless census and survey released on Thursday shows the number of people considered homeless in San Luis Obispo County has increased 32 percent since 2017.
The Point-in-Time Count was conducted for two days in late January 2019.
According to the report, San Luis Obispo County has a homeless population of 1,483, up from 1,125 when the study was last completed two years ago.
“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,” County Homeless Services Coordinator Laurel Weir stated in a press release. “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.”
It remains below the high of 2,186 from 2013. A majority of homeless are located in San Luis Obispo, with a significant number living in the unincorporated areas of the county. Paso Robles has 239.
The study shed light on how many are without shelter, how many are considered chronically homeless, where they lived before becoming homeless, numbers on the ages, gender, race, families, veterans, and unaccompanied children.
The report found 79 percent of the homeless are without shelter -- a total of 1,172.
Nearly 300 are considered chronically homeless and 144 are veterans. Of those veterans, 97 percent live without shelter.
All 23 unaccompanied children identified during the study are unsheltered. Ten percent of the total population is under 18 years of age, 11 percent are ages 18 to 24, and 79 percent are 25 or older.
Prior to their homelessness, 74 percent reported already living in San Luis Obispo County. Close to 45 percent have lived in the county for more than 10 years.
Of the total considered homeless, 68 percent are men, 32 percent are women. None identified as transgender. Nearly 75 percent are white.
Only 12 percent are employed. Among the unemployed, 50 percent said they were unable to work, 29 percent said they are looking for work, and 20 percent said they were not looking for work.
When it comes to justice system involvement, 37 percent of survey respondents spent one or more nights in jail, prison, or juvenile hall in the past year.
The survey also painted a picture of what led to their homelessness.
Three out of 10 said they became homeless because they lost their job. Two out of 10 said it was alcohol or drug abuse.
Seventeen percent said eviction was to blame, 11 percent said divorce or break-up, 10 percent said an argument with family or friend, and seven percent said domestic violence.
A total of 27 percent said their current episode of homelessness was their first. Among the reasons for barriers to obtaining permanent housing, two-thirds said they can't afford rent.
The survey also included self-reported health with more than a third reporting alcohol and drug use. Thirty-one percent reported psychiatric/emotional conditions and 26 percent said they dealt with PTSD.
It also showed 87 percent reported receiving benefits from services and assistance.
Overall since 2017, the county jumped 31.8 percent. Kern County saw a 64 percent increase in homeless population. Ventura County also jumped 45 percent. Meanwhile, Santa Barbara County saw a three percent decrease in homelessness. San Diego County and Pasadena also saw a decrease.
Throughout Southern California, the area saw an increase of 7,641 people who are considered homeless, a 9.6 percent rise from two years ago.
A separate report released this year by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in SLO County increased by 17.8 percent from 2017 to 2019, whereas the average hourly wage for renters increased by only 9.2 percent.
“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 stated. “Data from local emergency shelters indicate that the length of time people remained in shelters increased from 2017 to 2018.”
There are currently only two year-round emergency shelters in SLO County: the ECHO shelter in Atascadero and the 40 Prado facility in San Luis Obispo. Their combined capacity is about 150 beds. In April 2019, the County Board of Supervisors approved funding to expand the ECHO shelter by an additional 10 beds and to build a warming center in Paso Robles that will create emergency beds during the winter.
The 2019 San Luis Obispo County Homeless Census and Survey Report can be found at www.slocounty.ca.gov.