Increased outreach leads to higher numbers for Nevada County’s Homeless Point in Time count
The numbers are in — and they’re up substantially from last year.
But a higher count for Nevada County’s homeless population is likely due both to a much more intensive outreach effort this year, and bad weather during 2018’s count, local officials say.
This year’s Homeless Point in Time count of 404 individuals, conducted by more than 60 volunteers and county staff on Jan. 24, showed an increase of nearly 9 percent from the last U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-mandated count of 371 in 2017.
In order to receive federal funding, every other year local jurisdictions must conduct counts of sheltered homeless (those living in emergency shelters, motels paid for by an agency or transitional housing) and unsheltered homeless (those living outside, in cars, or other places not meant for human habitation). These counts must be conducted during one day during the last 10 days of January,
Though HUD only requires a full count every other year, Nevada County now conducts a full count each year. Surveyors ask participants questions including how long they lived in Nevada County prior to experiencing homelessness, the reasons they stay in the area, their genders, ages, mental health conditions and more.
Last year’s numbers were significantly lower, at 272. But that count was conducted in the middle of a snowstorm, said Nevada County Housing Resources Manager Brendan Phillips.
“That depressed the numbers,” Phillips said. “Also, we had a loss of some institutional knowledge. I had just taken this position and (several staff members) had just retired. Our planning was not as comprehensive that year.”
Because the Point in Time count functions as a snapshot over a period of just 10 days, factors such as weather and location can affect these results substantially. The counts in the last decade fluctuated from a low of 190 in 2011 to the high count of 371 in 2017, averaging out at 278.
This year, Phillips said, the county was determined to get the most accurate data possible.
County staff placed more emphasis on organizing multiple counting locations. The night before, Extreme Weather Shelters were opened in Truckee, Grass Valley and Nevada City, and guests were counted there as well as at Hospitality House. This year was the first time Interfaith Food Ministry in Grass Valley served as an event location. This also was the first year the county had a parallel event with the Family Resource Center in North San Juan.
And the county increased street outreach for the window of 10 days after the count.
In the past, the Point in Time counts were mostly event-based, Phillips said.
“We would have the event and invite the homeless to come and get counted, with some outreach,” he said. “This time, we definitely flipped that script.”
With the assistance of Joe Naake, lead Outreach Coordinator for the Hospitality House, the teams were able to put together a more comprehensive list, Phillips explained.
“We knew who we were looking for,” he said. “We went out and found them and counted them.”
The North San Juan event and increased field outreach efforts on the San Juan Ridge also made a big difference, with 37 people counted — higher than any previous survey, Phillips said.
“That community really came together (to help with the count),” he said. “They have those relationships, they know those folks … The whole community pulled together there to make sure they got their folks counted.”
By the numbers
This year’s count showed an increase in veterans and families experiencing homelessness, Phillips said.
The 2019 count surveyed 47 families representing 116 individuals, 43 of whom where children under 18. This compares to 29 families with 55 children in 2017.
Coordination between the County Superintendent of Schools and Nevada County’s CalWORKS Housing Support Program staff allowed for a more accurate count of families with children than in previous years, according to Phillips.
“The Superintendent of Schools has always done its own count, but (uses) a different definition of homelessness,” he said, explaining that they count people who are doubled up due to economic hardship, for example. This year, Nevada County was able to take their list and identify families that met the federal definitions.
For veterans, the 2019 count surveyed 33 identified veterans, as compared to 12 in 2017. That jump was probably due to the more comprehensive count, Phillips said, especially of homeless clients on the San Juan Ridge.
Of the adults who responded to detailed survey questions, 48 percent were chronically homeless, 32 percent reported having a serious mental illness, and 36 percent had a substance use disorder. These percentages are proportional to previous survey results, Phillips noted.
When asked how long they have lived in Nevada County and why they stay here, 59 percent of the adults surveyed reported that they are originally from the area or stay to be close to family, 59 percent have lived in Nevada County for five years or longer prior to becoming homeless, and 21 percent have lived in Nevada County between one and five years.
A full report for this year’s 2019 count will be released in March, which will dig deeper into year-over-year data trends and will include more information related to homeless numbers in local schools. It will also provide data on other questions asked of participants in the survey.
““We’ll definitely have more data than we’ve ever had,” Phillips said.
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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