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Homelessness Declines 22% in Sonoma County, but There’s ‘More Work To Do’

Written by Bay City NewsPublished May 25, 2023 • 3:30pm
Homeless campers along the Joe Rodota trail used shopping carts, go carts and improvised dollies to move their belonging Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, in Santa Rosa, before local authorities swept through the trail removing the last of the residents. | John Burgess/The Press Democrat via AP

Sonoma County is touting its annual 2023 Point-In-Time count of people experiencing homelessness, citing a 22% decline in overall homelessness and a 24% decline in people who had been designated “chronically” homeless from the previous year, the county said Wednesday.

The Point-In-Time count, or PIT, was undertaken on a single day in January and was a census of sorts that counted the number of people in the county who were experiencing some level of homelessness at that time.

This year’s count found 2,266 individuals experiencing homelessness compared with 2,893 in 2022. The county said that this is the largest decrease since 2015.

County Supervisor Chris Coursey said the new numbers were due to the “hard work” of entities in the county  that have made it a goal to reduce homelessness, as well as Measure O, which was passed in 2020 and adds a quarter-cent sales tax to fund mental health and homelessness initiatives.

“These efforts ... are truly making a difference and changing lives,” Coursey said in a statement released by the county. “As the report notes, we have more work to do, but we are moving in the right direction.”

The “more work to do” perhaps refers to the report's finding that more families are experiencing homelessness this year, with 62 family units counted compared with last year's 48.

READ MORE: White House Vows More Help To Reduce Homelessness in 5 Cities and California

However, most of the data appears encouraging. Homeless youth declined dramatically, with 294 individuals counted compared with 530 in 2022. Emergency shelter beds, permanent housing and permanent supportive housing, and transition housing initiatives undertaken by the county have resulted in more people living with roofs over their heads.

“This progress comes from focus and coordination,” said Tina Rivera, the county's director of the Department of Health Services. “The county team and our partner cities have pushed hard to place more housing units in operation and to provide strong supportive services to help keep people housed.”

Sonoma County has added several housing programs since last year's PIT count, which have contributed to the lower numbers.

Three Homekey sites, a state program that aids counties in housing people who have been chronically homeless, have opened in Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and Rohnert Park, creating a total of 122 units. So-called “safe parking” sites and managed encampments have created room for more than 150 persons, while emergency housing vouchers have gone out to more than 200 persons, the county said.

Since this year's count on Jan. 27, three more Homekey sites are pending in Petaluma, Guerneville and Santa Rosa, which will provide 131 units.

The preliminary analysis of the 2023 PIT count released Wednesday will be followed up by a more detailed breakdown of the numbers this summer, the county said.

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