Volunteers in downtown during the Point in Time Count on Jan. 26, 2023.
Volunteers in downtown during the Point in Time Count on Jan. 26, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

San Diego County’s latest annual census shows the region’s already devastating homelessness crisis has gotten dramatically worse. 

This January’s point-in-time count tallied 10,264 homeless residents sleeping in shelters or outdoors throughout the region, a 22 percent spike from last year. The total is the highest in at least 12 years – and likely the highest ever. 

Half of those residents – about 5,171 – were sleeping outside, up 26 percent from a year ago. 

Graph by Ariana Drehsler

Across some of the most vulnerable homeless populations, the count overseen by the Regional Task Force on Homelessness showed the situation is getting worse. 

The number of chronically homeless people living outdoors more than tripled and the number of seniors sleeping outside spiked 46 percent. The federal government considers someone chronically homeless if they have a disability and have spent at least a year on the street. 

The number of unhoused veterans also jumped 19 percent after years of touted reductions in that population. 

Graph by Ariana Drehsler

Overall increases in the cities of San Diego, Escondido and Chula Vista were particularly stark. San Diego alone saw a 28 percent spike in unsheltered homelessness and a 39 percent increase in individuals staying in shelters, a reflection of Mayor Todd Gloria’s push to open additional shelter beds in the city. Escondido, meanwhile, saw a 67 percent spike in unsheltered homelessness and Chula Vista a 54 percent jump. 

The data points speak to a system and a region unable to keep up with surging need. They also reflect the Task Force’s partnership with Caltrans this year to count unsheltered people staying on state property that has sometimes been difficult to access, adding hundreds of homeless residents who may not have been counted in the past. 

The scope of the region’s homelessness crisis is even larger than the one-day census in late January indicates.  

The Task Force separately reports that nearly 21,000 distinct people accessed temporary housing such as shelters or interacted with outreach workers from October 2021 through September 2022 – about double the number of people counted in January’s one-day census. 

Graph by Ariana Drehsler

And for the thirteenth month in a row, the Task Force in May reported that the number of people falling into homelessness outpaced the number moving into homes. Task Force data showed 1,141 people accessed homeless services for the first time in April and 714 exited homelessness. 

Point-in-time count data shows that San Diego is both struggling to keep people from falling into homelessness and to help people who become homeless efficiently move off the street.  

The latter has led the number of chronically homeless people living outdoors to more than triple and the number staying in shelters to increase 60 percent. 

If the service system can’t efficiently move people who become homeless off the street, more become chronically homeless. 

Graph by Ariana Drehsler

That’s what’s happening in San Diego County. 

Homeless residents who seek shelter often struggle to access it and even those who get shelter often struggle to find housing they can afford to free up beds – even as cities across the region add more shelter beds. 

Homeless advocate John Brady, who once lived on the street and now leads a consulting firm of formerly unhoused people who provide input on homelessness policies, said the increase in chronically homeless people counted in this year’s census was troubling but predicable. 

“It’s a direct result of the fact that we’re unable to move people through the system because we don’t have affordable housing,” Brady said. 

That challenge is driving point-in-time count increases in many populations – from seniors to veterans – and making it harder to quickly secure housing for those same groups when they become homeless, Task Force CEO Tamera Kohler said. 

“The housing market is just becoming more and more out of reach for a number of people and so it is really taxing the system,” she said.  

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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  1. Thank you, Lisa,for your continuing comprehensive quality coverage of this crisis. It’s all about the lack of affordable housing and a housing market that is increasingly leaving the city’s residents behind in the interest of speculators seeking a quick buck. You can no more blame the people on the streets for their predicament then blame the unemoloyed during the Great Depression.

  2. We here in San Diego are on the wrong track in dealing with homelessness. Nationally according to HUD, homelessness has decreased 11% since 2020. Here in San Diego it has increased by 34%.

    As someone who deals with the homeless on the streets, I am seeing one major cause and one contributing factor. The major cause is a lack of focus on homelessness by the city. There is no overall plan, there is no coordination, there is no one in charge. The contributing factor is that we have not effectively intervened to stop people from becoming homeless.

    According to the Regional Task Force On The Homeless, for every 10 people who find housing, 13 people fall into homelessness. Our boat is sinking and we are not plugging the holes at all. This is just one example of what I mean by a lack of focus.

    It may be time for new city leadership, this group appears to have no clue.

    1. Gloria has no idea what he is doing and he is beholden to developers. Bry should have been our mayor!

  3. Why doesn’t the military take care of their own? Surely, even just a small portion of those billions of our tax money for defense spending (much of which is wasted) can effectively be spent on HOUSING and other homeless services, as well as the medical care they should be providing to veterans. This would significantly ease the burden on already overwhelmed cities and counties just dealing with non-military folks.

  4. And in Japan, not one single senior homeless. America, c’mon man! “We have met the enemy and he is us.” POGO—Dan Smiechowski is an undeterred candidate for San Diego Mayor despite American prejudice.

  5. As the City (and State) spends millions , the homeless continue to flow into San Diego like the Colorado River.
    Perhaps it’s time to admit coddling and recruiting vagrants is not the solution and let’s try a little tough love instead.

  6. I work as a delivery driver for a pizza chain in North Park – sout Park- hill crest – Camino del Rio South.
    I arrive to work and Park. Look up and watch an old women pooping (openly) on university and Texas intersection. She takes cardboard and puts it ontop of her feces and goes back to sleep. Next day she is lying on her back … pants down … bottle of water squirtng up her (!!!) – then another cardboard ontop and begins to eat food out of a can with her fingers – goes to sleep … (repeat-repeat repeat).
    I hand her a dollar bill … she buys alcohol. I hand her food … she tosses it in the street.
    My empathy is lost. She is better off dead from exposure or violence.

    I am a Christian… I am a surgical technologist with advanced medical knowledge (I’m here because of the mid life crises – divorce and going to school)… but no … no more empathy. She’s an old women with addiction and mental problems who sleeps and eats ontop of her own excrement. And PEOPLE ARE AFRAID TO VIOLATE HER RIGHTS! Ummmm no.

  7. No explanation given for how the homeless population was zero in 2021 but I am guessing it is due to some pandemic policies and government subsidies to use the unused hotel rooms for getting people off the streets since nobody was taking vacations. That data point skews the chart significantly. The article doesn’t show any stats about where the people are from either. Is there an influx of transients or is it truly that people in San Diego are falling into homelessness? This isn’t an easy problem to tackle especially with our skyrocketing rents and housing prices so I’m sure there are many factors, each of which has to be addressed separately. However, the so-called homelessness advocates refuse to accept reality. From there point of view everyone has a “right” to be housed or to live on the street which is utter nonsense, so they simply roadblock and criticize any and all plans that don’t involve stealing and spending billions of taxpayer dollars. Both sides of the debate need to get real.

    1. I forgot to put “chronically” before homeless population. I was referring to Unsheltered Chronically Homeless Population in San Diego County.

  8. The flooding into the country of illegal immigrants invited by the current administration is certainly not helping the situation one bit. They can pretend that the border is secure or that they didn’t want that to happen, but their inactions speak louder than words. The border is not secure, and it is clear that 1 left wing policy after another (e.g., border security, decriminalizing hard drugs, not enforcing the camping laws, DAs that won’t prosecute enough violent crimes or drugs crimes due to so called equity issues) are doing far more harm than good. Meanwhile the people that really want help that are willing to work are being hung out to dry by our useless politicians. Of course, housing prices in specific areas of the country are a problem that is only 1 piece of the puzzle.

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