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County homeless population on the rise

SAN DIEGO — The number of homeless people living in San Diego County is up about 5 percent over last year, and more of them are living without any type of shelter, according to numbers released Thursday from an annual countywide tally.

Organizers said the January count tallied 9,116 homeless people in the county, up from 8,692 last year. The number of homeless who had no type of shelter was 5,621, up 14 percent.

Among the county’s homeless, 62 percent were in the city of San Diego. The city’s total of 5,619 represented a 10.3 percent increase from last year.

Of those, 3,231 were living on the streets.

The count also found large increases in the number of people living in tents, hand-built structures and vehicles.

At a news conference where the results were announced, Dolores Diaz, executive director of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, said that has made homelessness more visible to the public.

The numbers quantify the scope of the problem for local officials and are used to determine the amount of state and federal funding provided to the region.

“The results are also used locally to identify the programs that are needed by our local providers,” county Supervisor Ron Roberts said.

Diaz said the numbers, which represent a one-day “snapshot,” will be reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on May 1.

Of the total homeless population, 69 percent were men, 29 percent women and 2 percent transgender, she said. According to the data, 39 percent reported having a mental health issue, 30 percent had a substance abuse problem and 31 percent were chronically homeless.

The 1,274 volunteers in January also counted 883 unsheltered youth up to age 24, a 54 percent jump. More than 40 were minors.

Only 8 percent were veterans, representing the good news portion of the report. The 1,054 homeless veterans was 9 percent fewer than last year and 29 percent below the level of four years ago.

The number of veterans counted on the streets, 454, was down 21 percent from 2016.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer credited the city’s “Housing Our Heroes” program, which provides incentives to landlords to rent to former military members without a place to live.

“We said we were going to make veterans homelessness our number one priority — we had the opportunity to make a difference,” Faulconer said.

“I was very heartened at that part of the report that did show we’re making a difference,” he said. “That was a key focus of last year’s efforts, and Housing Our Heroes did make a measurable difference in peoples’ lives.”

Almost 1,000 residential units have been opened to veterans, according to the mayor.

On a regional basis, counters found:

— 1,287 homeless in the North County inland areas like Escondido, San Marcos and Vista, up 11 percent;

— 814 in North County coastal communities like Encinitas, Carlsbad and Oceanside, down 7 percent;

— 711 in the southern cities of Chula Vista, Imperial Beach and National City, down 21 percent; and

— 685 in East County locations like El Cajon, La Mesa and Santee, up 3 percent.

San Diego’s wet and sometimes chilly weather over the weekend had made it question whether the tally would show an increase in homelessness or not.

Just before the latest count took place, the San Diego Housing Commission held its annual resource fair for the homeless and had far fewer attendees than expected.

At about the same time, a monthly tally by the Downtown San Diego Partnership was down 38 percent from December.