Count shows slight uptick in homeless population
While some say the country is pulling out of the recession, it’s clear from the latest Homeless Count that relief has not come to all in Ventura County.
The total tallied countywide this year was 1,936 adults and children, representing a 3 percent increase from last year’s 1,872. More than 100 families were counted this year, including 200 children.
“We have not had a giant increase in spite of the fact that there are more families that are hurting,” said Cathy Brudnicki, executive director of the Ventura County Homeless and Housing Coalition (VCHHC). “In fact, the number of homeless families decreased, and I think that’s a credit to everyone engaged in this work.”
As with past counts, VCHHC consulted with Urban Initiatives, a community-based research and development agency, to plan and coordinate the count. The annual count is taken so that local jurisdictions can continue to apply for state and federal grant funding aimed at assisting the homeless.
This year’s Homeless Count was conducted on Jan. 24 and carried out by more than 250 volunteers.
Brudnicki said the success of Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Funds has helped the count remain “relatively stable” the past four years, and fewer people are sleeping in cars, parks or abandoned buildings.
“We counted how many people were in permanent housing paid for by HPRP funds on the night of the count, and it was around 430 people,” she said. “So if not for that money we would have had those extra 400 people on the streets.”
While Brudnicki is somewhat relieved to see the numbers remain consistent given the economy, her goal and that of other homeless advocates is to see no one without shelter.
That’s why they are working on recalibrating the 10- Year Strategy to End Homelessness, which was adopted in 2007.
“We are continuing to talk about the issues and the solutions that we can work on to really end homelessness and create that safety net so no one has to spend a night on the street,” Brudnicki said.
The soon-to-be completed recalibration effort will set new goals, taking into account new federal requirements for emergency shelter and housing funds as well as the federal plan to end homelessness released last year.
It will also consider the latest count.
“(The numbers) give us a target in terms of creating housing opportunities,” such as supportive housing units and emergency shelter beds, Brudnicki said. “They help us understand what the need is so that the solutions will meet the need.”
It seems the greatest need is on the two ends of the county.
Ventura and Simi Valley saw the biggest jumps this year.
Ventura and Oxnard always have the highest homeless population. This year, Ventura went from 570 to 701 homeless, while Oxnard actually saw a decline from 638 to 522.
But Brudnicki said the numbers are deceiving.
“Ventura and Oxnard are always linked together,” she said. “If you look at the number for Oxnard and the number for Ventura, the number that Oxnard went down is almost exactly the number that Ventura went up. That’s because the winter shelter was in Ventura this year instead of Oxnard.”
So why did Simi Valley see a jump from 226 to 284 when there was almost no change from 2010 to 2011?
“For Simi, there’s just more people hurting,” Brudnicki said. “There’s more who’ve lost their housing because of the economic downturn, and it’s not easy out there.”
In Simi Valley, 270 adults and 14 children were counted—mostly on the streets—with 21 tallied in facilities such as transitional housing.
Of the adults, there were 196 men and 74 women, including 18 people over the age of 62 and 19 young adults ages 18 to 24.
Little change was seen in the counts for Thousand Oaks, Moorpark and Camarillo, which have comparatively low numbers each year.
Brudnicki said Esseff Village in Thousand Oaks—a Many Mansions project that in 2001 converted an old motel into permanent housing for disabled, very low-income and homeless individuals—has helped keep the city’s homeless population low.
“That project was an enormous benefit to the city of Thousand Oaks, whose population is quite similar to Simi Valley’s, in terms of getting chronically homeless individuals off the street,” she said. “So that’s a success story that other communities should emulate.”
Of course, the count is merely a reflection of the number of homeless on a given day—the number of homeless over the course of a year is much higher. Local, regional and national data suggest the population is three to four times greater than what is counted on a single day.
And the report acknowledges that not everyone is counted. Some homeless people refuse to participate and others are missed.
“We do not pretend that we count every homeless person in the county on that day,” Brudnicki said. “But we use the same methodology every single year so you’re getting an applesto apples comparison—are we gaining against this problem or are we losing ground?
“And we’ve remained relatively (stable) in spite of the fact that the economy has taken a nosedive.”
To view the entire 2012 Homeless Count, visit www.vchhc.org.