Politics

Homelessness in Orange County: More single adults and fewer families; vets unchanged

Kristen Konig sits in front of the Fullerton Armory, which offers housing for the homeless population in Orange County during the holiday season. Konig is originally from Orange County and has been in and out of shelters for the past seven years.
Kristen Konig sits in front of the Fullerton Armory, which offers housing for the homeless population in Orange County during the holiday season. Konig is originally from Orange County and has been in and out of shelters for the past seven years.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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A push to house the chronically homeless and homeless families in Orange County has brought down their numbers - but the number of veterans living on Orange County streets is unchanged and the number of single adults who are homeless has shot up, according to a report to the Orange County Commission to End Homelessness Friday.

The statistics come from the biannual homeless count, conducted in January.

Overall, homelessness is up 5 percent in Orange County compared to 2013, when the last homeless census was taken. Volunteers counted 4,452 people — 49 percent of whom were unsheltered and sleeping on sidewalks, in tents or or vehicles. That’s 31 percent more unsheltered homeless than in 2013. 

Orange County officials also used the numbers to figure out how many people will experience homelessness at least one night over the course of the year: 15,291 this year, a 20 percent jump from 2013. They do this because Orange County’s two largest emergency shelters are closed for about six months during the warmer time of the year.

Cities and counties are required to conduct a Point-In-Time Count & Survey, as the homeless census is officially known as, to receive funding from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development. Orange County agencies get $19.5 million from HUD.

To do the census, volunteers were sent to six popular homeless sleeping areas in Orange County, including the Santa Ana River Trail.

“People will think they are all in Santa Ana or the central part of the county,” said Scott Larson, chair of the Orange County Commission to End Homelessness.

In fact, volunteers found the most unsheltered people in an area that stretches from Los Alamitos in the western part of the county to Newport Beach and includes Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Stanton, Cypress, La Palma, Seal Beach and Fountain Valley. 

The next highest number of unsheltered homeless people were found in an area that includes Anaheim, Buena Park, Brea, Fullerton, La Habra and Placentia. 

Orange County officials said a focus on funding housing for families has paid off. The report showed a 14 percent decrease in the number of homeless families since 2013, that last time the census was taken.

Karen Williams, president and CEO of 211OC, a private-public organization that coordinates the homeless count in Orange County, said service providers and the community have worked on getting homeless families, as well as women and children, out of emergency shelters and into more steady housing.

“That’s been where the focus is, whereas the individuals, not so much,” she said. "Now, we've got the challenge of 'let's start addressing individuals' and getting them housed."

Homeless adults not living with children make up the majority of the homeless population, according to the report. This group increased by 13 percent compared to 2013. Most of them are men.

The number of chronically homeless people — another focus of housing efforts — also took a dive. Those are individuals who have been living on the street or in an emergency shelter for at least one year, have been in that situation four times in the last three-year period or have a mental health condition.

Williams believes because they’re seeing progress in families and the chronically homeless, the overall increase could be in newly homeless people.

“We believe it has to do with affordable housing,” she said. “As rents are increasing, we’re hearing of more and more individuals who are losing their apartments and are livings in cars.”

One area in which Orange County has not seen any progress is in reducing the homeless veteran population. During the census, 447 homeless veterans were counted; that’s one more than in 2013. Of those counted this year, 80 percent of homeless veterans weren't sleeping in a shelter or in other type of temporary housing.

Data show most veterans who are homeless in Orange County don't fit the definition of chronically homeless — only 15 percent do. 

“HUD is driving the use of data and they are saying, ‘You need to understand who your homeless population is'," Williams said. "And I think we have a much better idea.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Huntington Beach and Anaheim had the two largest populations of unsheltered homeless people. KPCC regrets the error.