The number of homeless people in San Diego County is down 4 percent, according to this year’s point-in-time homeless count, and long-term data shows the city’s efforts to provide shelter and aid might be paying off.

Here’s how the Regional Task Force on the Homeless’ WeALLCount process has worked in the past:

Every January, while it’s still dark early in the morning, hundreds of volunteers wielding flashlights and maps of U.S. Census tracts fan out across the county in cars and on foot, depending on their zone. They count the number of people they see sleeping in tents, cars and makeshift structures, and on streets and sidewalks.

Then the organization adds in the number of people the region’s shelters reported were sleeping there on the same night. This particular kind of count — a point-in-time snapshot — is required for any region to be considered for federal funding to combat homelessness.

Based on the task force’s data, there’s been a 12 percent increase in the number of homeless people in shelters since 2010.

Here’s how the number has changed over the years:

San Diego still had by far the highest number of homeless people among cities in the county. The census includes 19 cities and 14 unincorporated areas, and 62.9 percent of the total population counted was in the city of San Diego alone. Escondido came in a distant second, with 6.7 percent of the population counted this year.

Here’s a look at the cities within the county with the highest homeless populations:

And here’s a more detailed breakdown of the homeless population in the city of San Diego:

The number of homeless people without shelter in downtown San Diego ticked up from 2011 through 2013, but went down in 2014. Task force reps were unable to pinpoint a specific effort that would explain the decrease, or the decline in the overall population in the county.

Officials in San Diego have said the opening of the transitional Connections Housing facility, as well as ex-Mayor Bob Filner’s push to increase funding for homeless shelters and encourage cooperation between various groups that aid the homeless, have all helped.

The Serial Inebriate Program, a multi-agency effort intended to help homeless people deal with alcohol and substance abuse issues, placed 720 people in treatment and housing programs last year. That was an 84 percent increase from the arrangements made in 2012.

Increased resources in the past year were key to that spike, said San Diego Police Lt. Debra Farrar, who oversees the department’s homeless outreach team.

Farrar’s team spends most of its time in downtown San Diego, where another group besides the regional task force keeps a close eye on the homeless population.

The Downtown San Diego Partnership, a business group, routinely counts homeless residents in five central city neighborhoods, and releases its own numbers. One night a month, a team from the organization tallies the number of people sleeping on downtown streets between midnight and 6 a.m.

The numbers tend to fluctuate by season and time of year, so here’s a look at the average number of homeless people the group found in these five neighborhoods the past few years.

Right now, the challenge downtown appears to be in the East Village and Gaslamp District – probably a good place for the task force to start during next year’s count.

Ana Ceballos is a reporting intern at Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter: @ceballosap.

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