California Governor Gavin Newsom, who once deemed himself the “homeless czar,” saw for the first time in the state’s history that the homeless population in Sacramento rose by 67% in three years — surpassing San Francisco’s count, which dropped by 15%.
Conducted by California State University, Sacramento, the 2022 Sacramento Point-in-Time Count report documented every individual in the county experiencing homelessness on a single night in February. The count revealed a substantial increase in the county’s homeless population, with an estimated 9,278 individuals without shelter in the state’s capital. Those numbers were about half the size in 2019, the report says.
However, Dustin Luton, president of the board of directors at the American River Parkway Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on conserving the 23-mile river in Sacramento, argues the latest data from the PIT Count does not show the true picture of the homelessness crisis on the river.
“The American River Parkway is ground zero for the homelessness crisis in Sacramento County,” Luton said in a statement. “Even such a small sample size shows the large percentage of unhoused individuals that are illegally camping in the Parkway.”
The foundation said only seven sites that run through the City of Sacramento on the Parkway were surveyed, showing the count only included 594 illegal campers.
“Imagine what the count would have showed if the whole Parkway had been included,” he added.
Dianna Poggetto, executive director of the American River Parkway Foundation, told ABC10 that the county is at a “crisis level,” adding that she hopes to see the stats move city and county officials to create more shelters and affordable housing.
“No one wants a shelter in their community, but at the same time, if we don’t create shelters, then we’re not going to solve the problem,” Poggetto said. “These individuals need assistance, and we as a society should be able to assist them.”
Still, according to the official count from Sacramento State University, 72 percent of those 9,000+ individuals slept outdoors rather than in shelters. That statistic includes 1,600 tents and 1,100 vehicles identified in the count — a number that quadrupled since 2019.
The homeless individuals interviewed in the report said they have a disability or have struggled with chronic homelessness, which has more than doubled since the last count three years ago.
About 58% of those reported said that their disabilities or chronic health conditions decreased their chances of securing employment or housing.
Although homelessness increased, veterans’ homelessness decreased by 6 percent — and homeless families with children dropped by about 31% since the last count. Researchers said COVID-era federal, state, and local aid contributed to the decline.
Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, told ABC10 the numbers tell him “that the city and the county need to regroup and really focus in on a regional plan to end, to prevent homelessness.”
Erlenbusch said homeless solutions created during the pandemic like Projects Roomkey and Homekey made some strides in the fight against homelessness. But the point-in-time volunteers said people living without shelter need to see more answers soon.
“Regardless of the population – be it veterans or transitional-age youth or families,” Erlenbusch said, “almost half said, ‘We need affordable housing.’”
He said people feel overwhelmingly discarded and invisible.
“We should never let anybody feel dehumanized, but we continue to do that, especially through criminalizing people experiencing homelessness,” he said. “We need to stop and make people visible.”
Much to the surprise of many, the homelessness crisis happened before the COVID-19 pandemic. The report says about 82% of the population became homeless for the first time before Newsom’s response to the virus in March 2020.
According to Sacramento Steps Forward, a nonprofit working to end homelessness in the county, the city invests approximately $33 million annually for shelter and other services for the homeless population. Sacramento currently operates about 1,050 emergency beds and supports community organizations that provide housing and shelter. Last year alone, the city allocated $50 million in addition to its homelessness programs for mental health, substance abuse, and rehousing assistance.
Recently, the nonprofit said, city and county officials approved a combined $13 million to support the development and implementation of a new Coordinated Access System, which will streamline and improve access to resources for people experiencing homelessness.
“Homelessness is a complex issue with no single driver,” Lisa Bates, chief executive director of the nonprofit, said in a statement. “However, the extreme housing shortage and lack of affordability is one significant contributor to the increase in homelessness in California, and Sacramento is emblematic of that.”