While the number of people experiencing homelessness continues to grow in Riverside County, officials last week said there were also signs of hope that the work the county is doing is paying off.

Heidi Marshall, director of the Riverside County Department of Housing and Workforce Solutions, said there were 3,725 individuals counted during the county’s annual Point-in-Time Count held January 25. Of those, 2,441 were unsheltered and 1,284 were sheltered.

“Now this number does represent a 12% increase from last year, but it is important to note that, even though it did pose an increase, it also was a 3% decrease in the growth rate from the prior year,” she told supervisors during the May 9 meeting.

According to Marshall, San Bernardino County reported a 26% increase and Kern County reported a 22% increase from 2022 to 2023. Neither Los Angeles nor San Diego counties have released data for 2023, and Orange County only does a full count every other year.

Marshall said that the 31% increase in unhoused veterans, 12% increase in unhoused households with children and 6% increase in unhoused seniors aged 62 and above was “cause for great concern.” However, the 27% decrease in unhoused transition-aged youth, those 18-24, showed that the department’s programs were working.

“That speaks to the focused work of our entire continuum of care and reaching out to this population and making sure that they had the support system into place,” she said.

When it came to the reasons why these folks ended up homeless, Marshall said the top answer was “family disruption.”

“We received many examples from individuals who perhaps lost a loved one, experienced domestic violence that led to a point in their lives where they didn’t have a support system and led to that to their homelessness,” she said. 

Other top answers were lack of income and unemployment. She also said of those experiencing homelessness, 21% reported this was the first time they were without shelter.

“What we think we can attribute to that number is that we experienced an unprecedented situation, I think mostly in our county, where you saw that several hundreds of homes were being sold, and so folks who were renting those properties, all of a sudden were left scrambling and looking for an apartment or another home to rent,” Marshall said. “And with the rental market being what it is, we just saw a spike in folks who were left unhoused.”

In an effort to better serve populations with increasing homelessness, the department is launching four new initiatives, including a program called Valor 2.0 aimed at getting veterans off the streets and into more stable housing.

“You may remember that in 2016, we were the first largest county in the country to be able to reach functional zero for veteran homelessness,” Tanya Torno, deputy director of the Riverside County Department of Housing and Workforce Solutions, said. “With the new increases in the number of veterans that are experiencing homelessness, we want to rise to the challenge and we are working with the VA to now coordinate two additional access points within our county so that veterans who are experiencing homelessness in our region do not have to go to San Bernardino to be screened for a voucher.”

Other programs include one that will link up families experiencing homelessness with a social worker so they can receive help finding more permanent housing and stable employment. The department is also continuing its partnership with the Department of Public Social Services to fast track housing vouchers for seniors experiencing homelessness. The department is also going to be expanding its service hours to help those in crisis on the weekends and in the evenings.

“I am very proud to say that we are flattening the curve,” Marshall said. “You can see progress being made, and we truly believe that we have built a system that encompasses the right tools in that toolbox that are going to give us more results.”

The next Point-In-Time Count will not take place until 2025, Marshall said, with Riverside County opting for a biennial count.

You can watch a recording of the full meeting here. The Department of Housing and Workforce Solutions’ 2023 Point-In-Time Count summary can be found here.

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