SAN DIEGO -- San Diego County's homeless population remains above 8,000 but is down roughly 11 percent from 2017, according to the results of the latest count released Monday by the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless.
The task force's 2019 Point-In-Time Count survey put that the county's homeless population total at 8,102, down from both last year's observed total of 8,576 and the 2017 total of 9,116.
The total of sheltered homeless residents remained fairly stagnant at 3,626, while the county's population of unsheltered residents fell from 4,990 last year to 4,476 this year. According to task force data, 78 percent of those surveyed said they first became homeless in San Diego.
"Homelessness is a complex issue but efforts to collect information directly from San Diegans experiencing homelessness will provide the precise, actionable information needed to better set polices, direct funding, and inform the public," said task force CEO Tamera Kohler.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that cities receiving federal funding to combat homelessness complete the Point-In- Time Count each year. The county received roughly $20 million in federal funding as a result of last year's survey.
The task force collected data for the latest count, known locally as the WeAllCount survey, during the early morning hours of Jan. 25.
For this year's survey, the task force's more than 1,5000 volunteers used a new methodology to ensure a count that's as accurate as possible. Volunteers not only counted homeless residents throughout the county, but also interviewed them on-site to gauge their needs and priorities, allowing county and local homeless advocacy groups to better assist homeless residents.
Volunteers also changed how they counted residents living in vehicles or temporary shelters such as tents. In previous years, surveyors multiplied each observed vehicle or shelter by two to estimate the number of residents living in their cars or a makeshift shelter.
For this year's count, the task force counted each resident who was engaged or visibly seen by surveyors regardless of the type of shelter they lived in. Homeless residents who were observed living in vehicles or tents or on sidewalks and park benches were designated unsheltered for the purposes of the survey.
"The improved methods used focus on direct, consistent engagement with homeless San Diegans and align us with nationally recognized best- practices," said San Diego City Councilman Chris Ward, who chairs the task force. "This improved outreach methodology sets the tone for formalizing and standardizing a qualified outreach protocol for use throughout the county."
The bulk of the county's homeless population, 5,082 residents, live in the city of San Diego, according to the survey. More than 1,000 homeless residents live in east county cities like El Cajon, La Mesa and Santee while several hundred each live in south county, the coastal areas of north county and the inland sections of north county.
In all areas surveyed, unsheltered residents outnumbered sheltered homeless residents. One-tenth of survey participants are veterans, according to the task force, while 62 percent of sheltered residents and 73 percent of unsheltered homeless residents are men.
"As we look beyond the numbers, we know that each person experiencing homelessness has a unique story and needs a unique combination of housing and services in order to achieve stability," said Deacon Jim Vargas, president and CEO of Father Joe's Villages and the task force's secretary. "A comprehensive plan that spans the region will be necessary to effectively and efficiently deploy adequate resources."201