CARLSBAD — The homeless population in San Diego County grew by 10%, according to the latest Point-In-Time Count conducted by the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness, with both significant gains and decreases among a few North County cities.
The task force released the data on May 19, which shows volunteers counted at least 8,427 homeless individuals, which is 10% more than the previous count in 2020 (The task force did not hold a count in 2021 due to the pandemic). Breaking the data down, the task force counted 4,106 unsheltered and 4,321 people living in shelters countywide.
In North County, Oceanside saw the largest gains by population since 2020, increasing 34% from 242 unsheltered individuals to 318 this year.
In Escondido, the city with the largest unsheltered population (264) two years earlier, dropped 31.1% to just 182 unsheltered individuals in the latest count.
In Carlsbad, the total population of homeless individuals under four categories — unsheltered, emergency shelters, transitional housing and Safe Haven — decreased by approximately 20% from 148 to 118 total individuals. The unsheltered population in Carlsbad decreased by 20.2% from 94 to 75 persons.
“We look at it as one data point that informs our decision-making,” said Mandy Mills, Carlsbad’s director of housing and homeless services. “It does help with year-over-year trends. In terms of age or gender, that may form demographic information. In terms of a physical number, it’s a fluid situation and it’s just a snapshot on that particular day.”
The city of San Marcos currently has the lowest unsheltered population among the large North County cities with just 12 total unsheltered individuals, although the city’s unsheltered population increased by 50% from eight individuals in 2020.
Poway’s unsheltered population increase by 53.3% from 15 to 23, while Fallbrook’s unsheltered population decreased 51% from 51 to 25. The city of Vista‘s totals increased 17% from 100 to 117 individuals.
The city of Encinitas saw a total increase from 65 to 113, a 74% rise (including San Dieguito, Solana Beach and Del Mar), with the unsheltered population increasing by 61.7% from 47 to 76 individuals since 2020.
For Carlsbad, Mills said the Point-In-Time count is just one metric the city uses to track the population. The city also launched a new program last year in conjunction with its Homeless Response Plan to meet the goal of reducing homelessness by 50% for those who want services.
However, critics of the Point-In-Time Count, a one-time “snapshot” mandated by the federal government, say it’s not a true picture of homelessness, as each city’s respective count may change from day to day. Some unsheltered individuals move from city to city, others secure permanent housing or accept services but then return to the streets.
Regardless, Mills said the count allows for cities to apply for federal resources to address a growing problem statewide — California has some of the highest concentrations of homeless people in the U.S.
“We also look at how many people we serve on a day-in, day-out basis and we’re looking at the number also to see if we can decrease those numbers,” Mills said. “The numbers we’re seeing on a quarterly basis is fairly consistent. I think it’ll be the second year of the plan where we’ll see change because this first year is baseline data.”
Mayor Rebecca Jones said there could be several factors at play in San Marcos, such as homeless individuals passing through and the city’s affordable housing stock, which is more than 7% of the city’s housing total.
“We have the Sprinter that runs through our city, the freeway runs through … and a lot of people like to be at the beach — it’s easier at the beach,” Jones said. “We are under 20 (unsheltered individuals) and for a city of 100,000 people, that’s incredibly low.”
Jones also cited the city’s higher number of affordable mobile home parks, rent control for seniors and the Sheriff’s Department matching people with services as potential factors helping keep the city’s unsheltered numbers relatively low.
Most North County cities have addressed the homeless issue through a variety of policies and actions. Oceanside received $2 million for a new shelter, although Vista did not receive any bids for its shelter.
Meanwhile, Carlsbad and Escondido created Homeless Outreach Teams through their police departments several years ago and have partnered with service providers to reduce homelessness and offer services.