The homeless population in Sonoma County has gone up for the first time since 2011, and last year's North Bay fires are partially to blame, according to a Sonoma County Homeless Count Report released Friday.
Sonoma County lost 5 percent of its housing stock during the wildfires, so county officials aren't surprised that the latest homeless count conducted in February shows a 6 percent increase in the county's homeless population. A separate telephone survey found that more than 10,000 people are in shaky living situations like couch surfing.
Many of those people are homeless or housing insecure for the first time.
“Just the confusion, the sense of not knowing where to even begin, it can feel very overwhelming,” said Jennielynn Holmes, Director of Shelter and Housing for Catholic Charities. “When you're already dealing with losing everything, it's a lot for a person to have to handle.”
The report predicts this is just the first wave of homelessness because of the fires and a second wave will sweep the county when others have used up social and financial resources.
County supervisors are calling for more housing to address the issue.
“We're really in dire shape right now,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane. “We really need to do everything we can to build units as fast as we can, and they need to be affordable.”
The Board of Supervisors is set to vote on declaring a homeless state of emergency on Tuesday. County staff predicts that could bring in an additional $12 million over two years to build affordable housing and fund other services.