By Miriam Raftery
May 21, 2018 (San Diego’s East County) – The 2018 Point in Time “We All Count” report on homelessness in our region reveals that 12.7% of San Diego County’s homeless population is in East County. While El Cajon has made progress toward sheltering its homeless people, no such progress has been made in the unincorporated areas or most East County cities.
Countywide, as ECM reported last week, the total number of homeless fell 6% to 8,576 people, of whom 4,990 were unsheltered, living on streets, in tents or in vehicles.
In East County, the highest homeless population is in El Cajon, which accounts for 7.9% of the county’s total homeless county. But due in part to new programs that the city has implemented, 58% of El Cajon’s homeless are now sheltered in emergency shelters or transitional housing; 391 are sheltered, while 288 are unsheltered.
Santee has 46 homeless people, and all of them are unsheltered. Similarly, in Lemon Grove, all 52 homeless people are without shelter. La Mesa’s homeless fared better according to the count, with 29 sheltered and 12 unsheltered.
Asked how La Mesa reduced its homeless population despite not having a city-run shelter, city manager Yvonne Garrett told ECM, "The County funded Interfaith Community Services program provides motel vouchers on a short term basis around the County. According to the Regional Task Force on Homeless, 17 of La Mesa’s homeless population were sheltered under this program and 12 individuals under the Interfaith Shelter Network. This program is county wide and they contract with churches and synagogues throughout the county to provide shelter in the winter months, typically Dec. 1-March 31."
Most dismally, the county’s unincorporated areas have 445 homeless people – and not a single one has shelter as Supervisors continue to focus on enforcement sweeps without providing a single shelter in unincorporated areas—not even mountain and rural areas where temperatures can dip below freezing in winter.
The County has taken some steps to provide more affordable housing including a 25 million housing trust fund for seniors, veterans and other vulnerable people. Plus in the recommended budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the County has allotted over 175 million dollars and 120 new jobs to help meet needs of vulnerable residents including those at risk of homeless. The County is also tripling funds for drug and alcohol treatment programs.
But for now, homelessness remains a serious problem in our inland region.
Among East County’s unincorporated communities, the count found 134 homeless people in Spring Valley, 97 in Ramona, 74 in Lakeside, 38 in Casa del Oro, 16 in Alpine, 8 in Crest-Dehesa, and none in Jamul/Dulzura. Unincorporated areas account for 5.2% of the county’s total homeless population.
The city of San Diego still has the lion’s share, with 57.3% of all homeless people in our county. But heightened enforcement against homeless people on the streets, in parks and other public places has increasingly pushed the homeless into inland areas including riverbeds, parks and streets across East County.
Detailed surveys of the homeless revealed some trends and issues, also dispelling some myths.
A troubling trend is a 45% increase in unsheltered homeless veterans from 2017 to 2018, though the number of chronically homeless vets decreased by 10%.
Progress has been made in helping homeless families; since 2014 family homelessness in San Diego County has fallen 23%. This year’s count also found a big drop in the number of homeless youths, with a 42% decrease in sheltered youths and a 25% decrease in unsheltered youths.
Nearly three-fourths (74%) of unsheltered homeless said they become homeless while living in San Diego; 21% said they become homeless somewhere else and 5% didn’t know.
Almost half – 43% of the unsheltered homeless have a physical disability and 43% have a mental health issue. The same number, 43%, report having a chronic health condition. Of those surveyed, 9% admitted to an alcohol abuse problem and 14% to substance abuse. Domestic violence survivors account for 5% of the unsheltered homeless and 2% are living with HIV/AIDS.
A key issue for many homeless has been finding jobs and shelter after incarceration. Among the unsheltered homeless, 13% were on probation or parole when surveyed, and nearly two-thirds of the unsheltered homeless population had been to jail, prison, or juvenile hall at some point in their lives. The survey did not detail, however, how many of those arrests were related to homelessness--such as charges of vagrancy-- vs. other offenses.