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Report: Number of homeless in Riverside County rises 12%; Supervisors call for solutions

Riverside County's homeless population increased 12% last year, with the number of unsheltered people accounting for the higher total -- prompting a member of the Board of Supervisors today to say the county needs to "work harder" to find solutions.

"The next step is thinking outside the box ... digging deep and wide in finding resources,'' Supervisor Karen Spiegel said. "These numbers tell a story. We have to work as a full county, not just in our districts, with this element. We have to work harder on that."

The county Department of Housing & Workforce Solutions presented its findings from the 2023 Point-In-Time homeless survey, conducted at the end of January, and the results estimated the countywide homeless population to be 3,725, compared to 3,316 recorded during the 2022 count.

The number of chronically homeless people who are unsheltered was 2,441, while the sheltered total was 1,284, according to the PIT report. The latter figure dropped 4% year over year, while the unsheltered number shot up 23%.

According to HWS Director Heidi Marshall, there was a 21% increase in the number of people surveyed who were experiencing first-time homelessness. Other worrisome signs -- a 12% increase in the number of homeless people with children, and a 31% increase in the number of homeless military veterans Marshall said.  

"Increases in homelessness can be attributed to multiple economic and social factors, such as poverty, lack of affordable housing, increasing rental costs and low vacancy rates, community and family breakdown and physical and mental health challenges,'' according to the PIT report. "Of the unsheltered individuals surveyed, 27% reported family disruption as the primary factor for their homelessness, lack of income fell second at 19%, and unemployment followed at 12%.''

The lack of affordable living space remains on the front burner of most homeless assistance programs in the county and state.   

"Affordable housing is a critical tool used to ensure rents remain affordable for individuals and families,'' HWS said. "According to the 2022 Riverside County Housing Need Report, renters in Riverside County need to earn $34.44 per hour -- 2.3 times the state minimum wage -- to afford the average monthly asking rent of $1,791."  

The PIT report noted that demand for utilization of homeless assistance programs continues to mount. The county's Continuum of Care Homeless Delivery System, which combines government resources with those of private and nonprofit entities, provided aid to 14,388 individuals between June 2022 and April 2023.   

"This is a sharp increase of 22% from last fiscal year, resulting in 625 additional housing placements,'' the report said.   

The survey showed that supervisorial District 1 had the greatest number of homeless -- 1,184 -- and within that district, the city of Riverside counted more homeless than any other municipality in the county at 977.   

District 4 had the next-highest total of homeless at 1,161, and the majority of those were unsheltered. The district encompasses the Coachella Valley and eastern desert. Indio had the largest homeless population there, tallying 427.

Marshall said that while the county's homeless population increased by a double-digit percentage, it was less than half of what neighboring San Bernardino County recorded -- a 26% jump.

The only public speaker who addressed the report, Roy Bleckert of Moreno Valley, threw doubt on the idea that government policies held the answer to ending homelessness.

"Public policies ... have made it exponentially worse,'' he told the board. "We're living in a George Orwell `1984' insane world. You pontificate and put up the same policies, and nothing changes."   

In the most recent homeless census, the county marshaled the biggest number of volunteers on record -- over 1,000 -- to conduct the count over a three-day period. People from faith-based groups, churches, civic affairs organizations, along with college students and county employees, were involved.

They engaged people living in cars, abandoned buildings, under bridges, in transient encampments, homeless shelters and other places throughout the county.

Data are used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine how to distribute federal homeless relief funding.   

Marshall said that, going forward, the county will follow other counties' leads and switch to biennial point-in-time surveys, with the next one scheduled in January 2025.

California has the largest number of homeless nationwide, approaching 200,000, accounting for one-third of the total in the U.S., according to federal officials.

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