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More People Became Unhoused Across the Bay Area Over Last 3 Years — Except in SF

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A blue tent has been set up along the wall of a building on a rainy sidewalk on a busy city street. The parking spaces nearest the tent are filled with trash – plastic bags, open takeout containers full of food, a paper cup – and additional trash is piled at the base of a tree next to the tent. In the background, a person in a green jacket walks away down the street.
An encampment of unhoused people on the streets of the Tenderloin in San Francisco on Oct. 30, 2021. The Biden administration has announced a new federal initiative to combat homelessness. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Updated 12:30 p.m. Friday

Despite a flood of federal and state dollars spent to keep people off the streets during the coronavirus pandemic, homelessness in the Bay Area continued to increase in the last three years — although not by as much as many had feared.

The population of housed and unhoused people increased by a total of almost 9% — to more than 35,000 people — across the seven Bay Area counties that reported preliminary data on Monday.

Among them, only San Francisco reported a slight decrease, of about 3.5%, even as the city still counted more than 7,700 unhoused people. The city's unsheltered population — people sleeping outside and in vehicles — dropped by 15%, while those living in shelters and transitional housing grew by 18%.

"We have a lot of work to do, but this shows that we are moving in the right direction,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “The investments we have made and will continue to make, as well as our improvements in strategy around outreach and connecting people to resources are all working together to help get more people off the street.”

Contra Costa County saw the region's steepest spike since the 2019 count, with the number of unhoused people up nearly 35% (to almost 3,100). In neighboring Alameda County, homelessness jumped nearly 22% (to more than 9,700), including a 24% increase in Oakland.

Meanwhile, Santa Clara County, the largest county in the region, reported a more than 3% uptick, with an 11% jump in the city of San José.

In the North Bay, Marin reported an 8.4% increase over 2019 rates, while Sonoma and Napa counties saw 5% and 6.5% increases, respectively, over their last counts in early 2020.

In San Mateo County, where officials have said they are seeking to  “functionally” end homelessness by 2023, the number of unhoused people increased by nearly 20% since the 2019 county, topping 1,800, the county reported on Friday.

Solano County is expected to report its preliminary numbers later this summer.

The numbers — which are generally considered a pretty significant undercount of the actual unhoused population — come from tallies of people sleeping on streets, in vehicles and in shelters on a single night in February. Counties must complete the count every two years to determine funding for homelessness programs (the 2021 count was postponed due to the pandemic).

More detailed information about each county's unhoused populations, including age and racial demographics, is expected to come out this summer.

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“I'm saddened that more people are homeless and a lot of that can be attributed to the pandemic,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff, emphasizing the need for substantially more affordable housing. “I'm not surprised because I see them ... I see people camping out there. I see people in the underpasses. I hear from constituents. So we know it's a big problem. But, you know, it's not just Contra Costa County. It's everywhere.”

Yet, many local officials and advocates for the unhoused said the numbers could have been much worse if not for the emergency programs implemented during the pandemic. And while the number of unhoused people in the region did grow, the rate of increase was considerably lower than the nearly 26% jump between 2017 and 2019.

The Bay Area “staved off a catastrophic increase in homelessness” over the last three years, said Tomiquia Moss, CEO of All Home, a regional housing and anti-poverty group that helped coordinate the counts. “Bay Area governments and nonprofits played deep defense on homelessness during the pandemic and we have more or less held the line — but now we need to go on offense and end the suffering on our streets.”

Moss credited an array of local and state efforts, including eviction moratoriums, emergency rental assistance and Gov. Gavin Newsom's Roomkey and Homekey programs, which have allowed thousands of unhoused people to temporarily live in hotel and motel rooms, with some units being converted into permanent housing.

“Those types of solutions are happening all across our region and we believe help to minimize how many more folks were experiencing this challenge during this period of time,” she said.

But advocates and local officials fear that funding for many pandemic aid programs that have helped get people off the streets will soon dry up, and are imploring state leaders to continue supporting them.

Moss also stressed the need to focus on the deep roots of the region's homelessness crisis, and address the structural racism and severe lack of affordable housing that have fueled it.

“Although the numbers in the point-in-time count are better than we anticipated, homelessness still continues to be our region's and our state's biggest challenge,” she said. “We have much work to do.”


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