SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Sacramento County's unhoused population reached record highs over the past three years, according to the 2022 Point-in-Time (PIT) Count, even surpassing San Francisco.
Sacramento Steps Forward (SSF) said the PIT count shows the number of people experiencing homelessness on a given night in Sacramento County - including those sleeping in their vehicles, outside and in shelters. The report is a collective effort to understand the degree of homelessness in the Sacramento region.
The federally required PIT count is typically conducted every two years. Because of COVID-19, however, the 2021 PIT Count was postponed to 2022.
The 2022 PIT Count found that Sacramento's unhoused population on a given night has risen by 67% between 2019 and 2022.
In 2019, volunteers counted 5,570 people experiencing homelessness throughout Sacramento County over the course of two nights. In 2022, volunteers counted 67% more people on the nights of Feb. 23 and 24 - a total of 9,278 individuals. 72% of the people counted slept outdoors, not in shelters.
The study then uses these PIT numbers to estimate an annual homeless population. In all of 2019, it was estimated that between 10,000 and 11,000 people experienced homelessness at some point in Sacramento County.
In 2022, that number as much as doubled, with the estimate falling between 16,500 and 20,000 people throughout the year.
Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, said the numbers tell him "that the city and the county need to regroup and really focus in on a regional plan to end, to prevent homelessness.”
He said while some strides have been made in homelessness solutions—like Projects Roomkey and Homekey during the pandemic—more needs to be done, and soon. That’s according to the people experiencing homelessness, interviewed by the point-in-time count volunteers, Erlenbusch said.
"Regardless of the population - be it veterans or transitional-age youth or families," Erlenbusch said, "almost half said, ‘We need affordable housing.’”
By one metric, Sacramento has surpassed San Francisco's numbers. San Francisco’s 2022 PIT count was 7,754 people, a 3.5% decrease from the city-county's 2019 count. Again, Sacramento's 2022 PIT count was 9,278 people. However, San Francisco still leads in its per capita population, with 89 people experiencing homelessness per 10,000 residents, compared to Sacramento County’s 59.
“I think we’re at a crisis level," said Dianna Poggetto, executive director of the American River Parkway Foundation.
She said she hopes these numbers light a fire under city and county officials to move more quickly on plans to create shelters and affordable housing.
"No one wants a shelter in their community, but at the same time, if we don't create shelters, then we're not going to solve the problem," Poggetto said. "These individuals need assistance, and we as a society should be able to assist them.”
Solving the issue leads to cleaner, safer public spaces and - importantly - provides people with services they need.
Volunteers asked how it feels to be homeless in Sacramento County.
"Overwhelmingly, people said they feel discarded, they feel invisible," Erlenbusch said. "We should never let anybody feel dehumanized, but we continue to do that, especially through criminalizing people experiencing homelessness. We need to stop and make people visible.”
Despite homelessness increasing in Sacramento County between 2019 and 2022, the PIT count shows the number of veterans experiencing homelessness has decreased by 6% and the amount of unsheltered families with children has decreased by 31%.
Still, the report found people who identify as Black &/or African American are three to four times more likely to experience homelessness, and more than half of all unsheltered adults reported at least one disability.
"Almost 60% said they have at least one disability, and that's either health, mental health or a developmental disability," Erlenbusch said. "So the county really needs to expand their investment in services to address this pretty disabled population.”
"The extreme housing shortage and lack of affordability is one significant contributor to the increase in homelessness in California, and Sacramento is emblematic of that," Lisa Bates, the SSF chief executive director said. "The key to changing the trajectory will be continued work among decision-makers to align and coordinate strategies, resources and increased funding for prevention and housing with appropriate levels of service.”
According to SSF, in the last year, Sacramento County has allocated nearly $50 million in addition to its programs that address, prevent or divert homelessness.
On Monday, Mayor Darrell Steinberg announced plans to propose a new 24-hour respite and navigation center to serve unhoused residents in Sacramento. The proposal aims to allow the city-owned property at 3615 Auburn Boulevard, which was formerly the Powerhouse Science Center, to be turned into a round-the-clock facility to serve residents experiencing homelessness.
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