Sacramento County’s homeless population surpasses San Francisco’s for first time, report shows

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Sacramento County’s homeless population nearly doubled in three years, and is now greater than San Francisco’s, according to a new report.

On any given night, about 9,278 individuals experience homelessness in the Sacramento County, up from 5,570 in January 2019, according to the new federally-mandated point-in-time homeless count. Up to 20,000 people will experience homelessness over the course of the year, the report said.

The report confirmed what many in Sacramento have been noticing for the last few years on sidewalks, levees and under overpasses — homelessness is much more visible. Volunteers counted more than 1,600 tents — five times more than the number they counted in 2019.

The coronavirus pandemic likely did not cause the increase, the report found. About 82% of unsheltered individuals said they’d become homeless for the first time prior to March 2020 when the pandemic struck.

One positive outcome of the 67% increase is that it could mean more federal funding for the region. Mayor Darrell Steinberg is citing the new number to increase pressure on government agencies to provide more services for homeless people.

The number of longtime homeless individuals who suffer from a physical or mental disability or substance use significantly increased. That group, so-called chronically homeless, increased a whopping 162% since the 2019 count, from 1,647 to 4,314.

Steinberg said that means the county needs to provide more shelter and services to the unhoused. The county is the health and human services agency, which has staff and funding to serve people with substance use and mental health issues, while the city is not.

“For chronic homelessness, we can’t do it alone,” Steinberg said. “Does the city have the capacity, expertise and ability to help people who are chronically homeless with significant conditions? That’s not what we are set up to do.”

Supervisor Patrick Kennedy said the county is doing a lot already — including sending teams of social workers to encampments and increasing beds for people mental health needs — and will commit to do more.

“If you look at the budget recently approved by the Board of Supervisors, it is clear that providing mental health and substance use disorder services, particularly for the homeless population, is a priority,” Kennedy said. “We remain committed to grow these programs as needed as resources become available.”

The city funds roughly 1,100 shelter beds and spaces, while the county, which has a budget six times greater than the city, funds roughly 1,300, according to spokespeople.

That leaves about 6,700 people without a shelter bed on any given night, according to the new report.

The report comes as the city and county face pressure to do more to address homelessness. Sacramento city voters will consider a ballot measure in November that would require the city to provide more shelter for homeless residents. A similar measure could go before Sacramento County voters.

If city voters approve the measure, the city will be required to open roughly 1,100 more shelter beds, doubling the amount it has now, said Daniel Conway, who’s spearheading the measure.

“This should not become another opportunity for our elected leaders to engage in finger pointing,” said Conway, who was chief of staff to former mayor Kevin Johnson. “It is time that they come together around a comprehensive approach that addresses the needs of both the unhoused and the housed. Critically we need to let the voters of Sacramento city and county have a voice at the ballot box this November so that our whole community is on board in moving forward.”

Homelessness rises in California

The city and county of San Francisco’s count was 7,754, down from 2019. But for most municipalities in the state, that was not the case. About a quarter of communities in the state reported that the number of people sleeping outside has more than doubled since 2015, the report said. In 2017, Sacramento’s count was 3,665.

About 815,000 people live in San Francisco, while 1.5 million live in Sacramento County. San Francisco’s homeless population is still greater than Sacramento County’s on a per capita basis.

Sacramento County’s per capita homeless population is now on par with Alameda County’s, the report said.

On Monday, after he received the report, Steinberg announced he will ask the City Council to vote to open the city’s 50-space weather respite center 24/7, not just when certain temperature thresholds are met.

Sacramento State researchers created the reporter, using data collected by volunteers who canvassed the county during two cold nights in February.

Here are some interesting findings:

6,664 people, 72%, were unsheltered, in tents, vehicles, and other locations. The remaining 2,614 were in shelters, motel rooms, and transitional housing.

Throughout the course of the year, 16,500 to 20,000 people will experience homelessness in the county — up from 10,000 to 11,000 in 2019.

Of the 6,664 unsheltered people, 75% were in the city of Sacramento, and 20% were in the unincorporated county. A small amount were in suburban cities.

About 92% of homeless people are from Sacramento County or are longtime residents, while only 5% moved here in the last six months.

An estimated 420 families with children were homeless on the night of the count, and 32% of them were unsheltered — an improvement from the 52% of families who were unsheltered in 2019. That’s likely due in part to the motels the city opened for homeless families since 2019.

Volunteers counted people sleeping in 1,100 vehicles, compared to less than 200 in 2019

116 identified as transgender, almost four times more than 2019.

Black people are disproportionately represented among the county’s homeless population. They accounted for 31% of the county’s homeless residents. By comparison, about 11% of county residents are Black.

Asked what Sacramento could do to help the homeless, 44% said provide more affordable housing.

Almost a third of youth identified as gay/lesbian, bisexual or another non-heterosexual identity.

About half the unsheltered youth had been in foster care or a group home before age 18.

Black families are three times more likely to experience homelessness compared to white families.

Fewer veterans are experiencing homelessness in 2022 than in 2019 — 625 vs. 667.

About 60% of respondents said that they were required to move their sleeping arrangements at least once in the past two months, usually due to law enforcement officials.

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