Chair: ‘Fix’ for County’s Homeless Challenges Not on Horizon

Chair: ‘Fix’ for County’s Homeless Challenges Not on Horizon

News Staff

A report documenting a 21 percent increase in the number of identified homeless people in Riverside County prompted members of the Board of Supervisors Tuesday to express concerns about lack of shelter space and resources for those who want to leave the streets.

The Department of Public Social Services submitted results of its Jan. 29 “Point-in-Time Survey” to the board, which certified the report, enabling officials to file it with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development. HUD will use the analysis to determine the size of homeless assistance grants earmarked for the county.

According to DPSS, the PIT survey documented 2,811 sheltered and unsheltered homeless adults and minors throughout the county, compared to 2,310 in 2018.

Officials said this year’s survey was refined thanks to mobile web- based technology and an intensified effort to reach encampments by a larger number of volunteers.

Even with expanded canvassing, however, officials wrote that the 2019 survey failed to completely capture “the actual number of homeless individuals” because there remain places where they are staying well off the beaten path, inaccessible to volunteers who try to find them during the one-day outing.

“It is really critical to get an accurate count,” Supervisor Karen Spiegel said. “If we don’t, then we can’t ensure we have the resources we need (to help the homeless).”

An estimated 700 volunteers took part in the PIT survey, compared to roughly 500 in 2018, walking into abandoned buildings, visiting encampments along the Santa Ana River bottom and similar spots, checking alleys, looking around parks and visiting shelters to make contact with displaced people.

Sheriff’s deputies, probation officers, mental health specialists, nonprofit workers and community members, as well as elected municipal representatives, volunteered time for the PIT survey, which is federally mandated as part of HUD’s Continuum of Care program, seeking to end homelessness.

Board Chairman Kevin Jeffries said that, in his experience, there are three groups of homeless: those who want assistance, those who are hesitant but can be convinced to accept assistance, and those “who don’t trust anybody because they have serious mental health or drug addiction problems.”

“They are, in my opinion, causing real significant problems in our communities,” he said. “Residents are coming unhinged over this. You have people breaking into garages, vehicles, mailboxes, living under trees and not responding to our assistance. I do not know how we fix that. Over the years, we’ve made this lifestyle legitimate, with people living off of other people’s earnings and violating their trust. I don’t know how we deal with that in our society.”

A DPSS official said more “bridge housing” for those who want help is needed across the county, as well as smaller-scale shelters, particularly in the southwest county region, which lacks any shelter space.

According to DPSS, the majority of those counted in the one-day census — 2,045 — were unsheltered homeless. Only two unsheltered families were located, officials said.

In 2018, the county received $10.1 million from HUD in support of homeless mitigation programs, which include transitional housing, job training and behavioral health resources. The state disbursed $11 million.

The California Homeless Emergency Aid Program and the California Emergency Solutions & Housing Program have already guaranteed the county $10.02 million in assistance this year.