Mayor Todd Gloria and Councilwoman Jen Campbell talk toElvida Elizalde, a homeless resident in the Ocean Beach area, while conductiing the Point-in-Time Count that surveys homeless individuals throughout the San Diego region on Feb. 24, 2022. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz
Mayor Todd Gloria and Councilwoman Jen Campbell talk to Elvida Elizalde, a homeless resident in the Ocean Beach area, while conducting the Point-in-Time Count that surveys homeless individuals throughout the San Diego region on Feb. 24, 2022. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

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This year’s homeless census tallied 8,427 homeless residents sleeping in shelters or outdoors throughout the region, a 10 percent spike from two years ago.  

Just under half of those residents – about 4,100 – were sleeping outside, up 3 percent from the region’s last census of unsheltered people in 2020. 

But those numbers likely represent a bare minimum of San Diego’s homeless population. 

Other data points – and testimony from the group that organizes the count – suggest the scope of the region’s homelessness crisis is much larger – and that it has grown even since volunteers conducted the count in late February. There are also sobering signs that an already devastating situation on streets regionwide could worsen.   

Megan Wood / Voice of San Diego

Click here to view the countywide graph another tab.

The Regional Task Force on Homelessness, the group that organizes the federally mandated homeless census, separately reports that more than 21,000 distinct people accessed temporary housing such as shelters or interacted with outreach workers from October 2020 through September 2021 – more than double the number of people counted during February’s “point-in-time” count.  

The annual number of people accessing services, a statistic that has been rising in recent years, does not include people linked with housing or housing resources, meaning it understates the volume of people who grappled with homelessness during that time. And it covers a period before the expiration of an eviction moratorium and financial aid programs implemented due to the pandemic, which experts predicted would increase homelessness.  

Megan Wood / Voice of San Diego

Click here to view the services graph in another tab.

During that same period, Task Force data shows the number of people who accessed temporary housing who did not seek that aid in the previous two years was up 11 percent since 2020 and nearly 47 percent since 2019. That means a wave of San Diegans became homeless for the first time in the last couple years. 

A monthly count conducted by a downtown business group also points to a booming crisis. While the Downtown San Diego Partnership tracked just a 2 percent spike in the number of people sleeping outdoors downtown and areas just outside it from late February to April, the numbers have surged 68 percent over the past year. 

For years, local leaders have eagerly awaited the results of the region’s point-in-time count and viewed the numbers as a reflection of the success the region and individual cities have or haven’t had combating homelessness. Annual press conferences on the topic came months after volunteers canvassed the county early one winter morning to count those living on the street and in vehicles, and the Task Force queried shelters about the number of people staying inside. The exercise has long been required for the region to pull in federal homelessness funding. Regional leaders have also increasingly used the data collected to assess the service needs of homeless residents. 

Since she took the helm of the regional group overseeing the count, Task Force CEO Tamera Kohler has emphasized the fact that the count is a snapshot rather than a complete picture of homelessness in the county.  

Voice of San Diego has also reported on how past methodological changes and police enforcement impacted the annual effort.  

This year, Kohler said bitter cold weather the morning of the late February count added extra challenges. 

“It is a minimum count,” Kohler said. “It is a minimum number on a morning that is more challenging than our counts have been traditionally.” 

For example, Kohler said some homeless outreach workers reported not finding people where they expected to see them. She suspected some homeless San Diegans may have pulled together cash for a hotel room to stay warm, places they couldn’t be counted per federal point-in-time count rules. 

Kohler also acknowledged the uncertainty ahead. Many experts warned of a potential tsunami of newly homeless people as pandemic protections ended and rents continued to rise – and those fears haven’t eased. 

“We are still feeling impact from a COVID response and just pulling back from an eviction moratorium so I don’t know that any community can say with confidence that the homeless numbers or population that they’re seeing during the point-in-time count or even now mid-year is going to be a representation of where we’re going to be every month moving forward,” Kohler said. “I think there are still some pieces that we are still waiting to see that probably will impact the homeless system.” 

Dan Corvalan, 39, has already directly felt the impact. He said he has been homeless since late March when he was evicted from a downtown single-room occupancy hotel after he was unable to pay his rent on time. He previously received unemployment and rental assistance. 

Now, after a stint sleeping on the street in East Village, Corvalan said he’s living in a car and recently was offered an information technology job after a months-long search. 

The experience left Corvalan convinced the region needs to step up efforts to prevent homelessness. 

Mayor Todd Gloria approaches Steve Gordon, a homeless resident in the Ocean Beach area, while conducting the Point-in-Time Count that surveys homeless individuals throughout the San Diego region on Feb. 24, 2022. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

“If the city wants to fight homelessness, they need to fight the making of homelessness,” Corvalan said. 

Alpha Project CEO Bob McElroy, whose nonprofit runs multiple large homeless shelters, said he fears what’s next for people his organization has already helped move off the street. 

On a single late March visit to Alpha Project’s Barrio Logan shelter, McElroy said a handful of former clients the agency previously helped find permanent homes approached him asking if they’d have a bed at his shelter if they needed to return. McElroy said all were facing the prospect of significant rent increases they couldn’t afford. 

“They waited patiently for their opportunity, and they found their opportunity and now they’re being squeezed out again,” McElroy said. “I thought we were moving the ball down the court.” 

And Sebastian Martinez, executive director of Chula Vista nonprofit Community Through Hope, said his organization has seen a surge in need since late last year, particularly after bolstered unemployment payments dried up. 

“Once those things ran out, it was pretty much game over,” Martinez said. 

In response to anecdotes like these and past point-in-time data showing a growing population of homeless seniors, San Diego County supervisors in February approved a pilot shallow subsidy program to support seniors who might otherwise fall into homelessness.  

This year’s point-in-time count found that one in four unsheltered people were over 55. Nearly half reported to volunteers that they became homeless for the first time in the past year, Kohler said. 

The San Diego City Council also recently approved a no-fault eviction moratorium set to go into effect next week that is aimed at protecting residents who are not behind on rent. City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera and other councilmembers have also urged Mayor Todd Gloria to incorporate a housing stability fund into his latest budget to provide short-term rent relief and help people forced to move out of their homes. Gloria did not include that funding in his revised budget released Tuesday. 

“In terms of stability funding, it’s critical to making sure that we don’t just end up on a losing battle on a treadmill,” Elo-Rivera said at a budget hearing earlier this month. 

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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8 Comments

  1. The number of unsheltered homeless keeps rising and the cost of San Diego living goes through the roof, if you are lucky enough to have one. The smiling faces incumbent politicians show up for photo opportunities, but behind the scenes give SDG&E a new exclusive monopoly contract to charge us more, they scheme to get themselves a new city hall Municipal Palace, and give every one of their city union employee supporters raises and sweeter benefits. Remember Smiling faces – https://youtu.be/3GXSHRJYxTQ

  2. The annual Point In Time count was released yesterday and the numbers were as bad as everyone feared. Yes progress is being made but it is in dribs and drabs. Even when Father Joe’s opened their 400 bed new building, that is less than 10% of the total street population. We are not even keeping up with the year over year increase in spite of the efforts of many organizations.

    It is time for transformative change, business as usual is not getting the job done. Plus there is a Tsunami just over the horizon. When the eviction moratoriums expire the homeless population will spike. No one talks about it but we know its coming.

    I propose that the 46 ac Sports Arena site NOT be sold to a developer, that the entire site be used as a Homeless Treatment Campus. The campus should have a Mental Health Treatment building, an Addiction Treatment Center, many many housing first units, a Safe Camping area, a Safe Parking area, a Job Training Center, a Community Center for the residents. We have the non-profits in San Diego with the skills and experience to successfully run such a campus.

    If we used the entire site we would have the room, facilities and skill to treat the entire homeless population of downtown, about 1,400 people.

    We are at a unique moment in time where there is both a State surplus of $97 Billion available and Federal money available. If ever there was an opportunity to look outside the box of another high end housing development and another sports facility, this is it. It is time to be bold, time to be brave, time to get the homeless off the streets of San Diego.

    Bruce Higgins

  3. While I have no doubt that the number of homeless in SD has increased, the figure of 21,000 accessing homeless services over the year can be misleading. It is likely that many of the 21,000 were duplicative (i.e. people who returned for services a number of times). However, comparing that figure to prior years, probably shows that the homeless are more desperate for services than previously.

    1. Hi B. Getzel, wanted to respond because I imagine your thought is one others have too: the 21,000 number for people who have accessed services is one that has been de-duplicated by service providers. We can say with reasonable confidence that it refers to 21,000 unique individuals, which is precisely why people who work in the homeless industry look to it specifically.

  4. We call them homeless, but really they are addicts and mentally ill. Homelessness is a factor of that. “Homeless” is a euphemism society uses to pretend it’s really not an entirely different type of crisis. And, that allow us to feel like we’re doing something about it. We do nothing about it. Shelter is not the issue.

  5. My name is Dan Smiechowski. I am a candidate for D2 SDCC. I have a funny name. I have a not so funny 3-point plan to solve the homeless issue. Nobody cares because I am a little man with no friends in high places. Here is the plan. Dan Smiechowski D2 SDCC Candidate
    https://youtu.be/wR3EZwqJtqY

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