May 20, 2009 - Census: fewer homeless on San Mateo County streets
By Shaun Bishop, Daily News Staff Writer
There are fewer people living on San Mateo County 's streets this year compared to two years ago, according to data released Wednesday from the county's biennial census of homeless people.
In the one-day tally conducted earlier this year, officials found a total of 1,796 homeless people, down 13 percent from the 2,064 people found during the 2007 count.
The 2009 number includes 803 people living on the streets, a count obtained with the help of 250 volunteers who fanned out across the county on Jan. 29 to record all the homeless people they could spot. That same day, officials surveyed shelters, transitional houses, hospitals and jails and found another 993 homeless people.
The number of people on the streets was down 27 percent from two years ago while the number of people in shelters increased 2 percent in the same period.
County officials attributed the overall drop to the creation of new programs to help the homeless as part of HOPE, the county's 2006 plan to end homelessness within 10 years.
Wendy Goldberg, the county's director of the center on homelessness, said the county has added dozens of supportive housing units to give homeless people a stable living situation, citing the opening of the Vendome Hotel in San Mateo and funding from the 2004 initiative Proposition 63, also known as the Mental Health Services Act.
"I just felt there were a lot of people working on homeless issues over the past two years with a really strong commitment, and it made a difference," Goldberg said.
But Goldberg also acknowledged that the census missed an untold number of "hidden homeless" â€” people who have lost their homes in the recession and are living on friends' couches, in garages or in cars on private property.
"I think the people who have recently become homeless have increased, and that at least initially a lot of them are finding some resource temporarily to remain off the streets," she said.
The county is required to do the census every two years in order to qualify for federal housing funding. This year, there will be an extra $1.5 million from the federal stimulus act made available to homeless programs across the country, said Ed Cabrera, the Bay Area director for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
The county also surveyed 427 homeless people and found 43 percent reported losing their job as the main reason they became homeless. More than two-thirds of the homeless have at least one disability; the most common ones include alcohol or drug problems (38 percent), mental illness (33 percent) and physical health problems (30 percent).
Only 14 percent of the homeless surveyed this year said they are military veterans, down from 27 percent two years ago. County officials said that could be due to more housing programs for homeless veterans or simply a lack of veterans in the survey pool.
County supervisors Mark Church and Carole Groom participated in this year's homeless count and said interacting with the homeless provided extra motivation to get them off the streets.
"The cost of not doing anything is going to be far greater," Church said. "The political will is there. It's never been stronger. This is an effort we're committed to."