Homelessness Soars with 57% increase in Salinas
Discussions over homelessness are growing and the number of homeless people visible throughout Salinas is also growing. Recently released data confirms the surge in numbers here in the city and throughout Monterey County.
The homeless count is up by 23% in Monterey County, according to the 2017 Monterey County Homeless Census Report, a biennial report released by the Coalition of Homeless Service Providers, a Marina-based nonprofit that oversees services in Monterey and San Benito Counties.
The cities that have seen the most significant growth are Del Rey Oaks, where the number rose from 55 in 2015 to 111 - a 102% increase, Salinas which saw a rise from 867 in 2015 to 1,361 had a 57% increase and Marina experienced an increase of 37% from 298 in 2015 to 407 in 2017. Other aspects of the upward trend include a large number of homeless youth and families and a rise in homeless individuals who identify as Hispanic/Latino, from 48% in 2015 to 58%.
Moreover, the data and findings show the homeless populations often aren’t stationary.
“I started to notice what I call a geographic redistribution and it seemed like there was some migration happening within Monterey County, which was solidified through the 2017 report where the largest increases were in Salinas, Marina and Del Rey Oaks,” said Katherine Thoeni, executive officer of the Coalition of Homeless Service Providers.
The official definition of homeless according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is a person who lives in places not meant for human habitation such as the streets and vehicles.
On Tuesday Thoeni will present the report to the weekly meeting of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors.
The report comes at a critical time. Discussion over homelessness and the severe shortage of affordable housing are foremost in many minds, presenting the intersection of a social challenge and an economic reality. In Salinas, the homeless encampments which had recently been swept away in Chinatown have reemerged.
Assistant Public Works Director Don Reynolds said the clean-ups in Chinatown are conducted weekly. At the end of April, ten tons of debris were removed in a mass purge, and the crews typically remove two to three tons of debris on most sweeps.
Thoeni and city officials say a significant cause of the growing problem is the severe shortage of affordable housing, coupled with wages that haven’t kept up with cost of living and rising rental and housing prices.
The report shows that 68% of homeless responders reported they couldn’t afford rent in the county.
There is also a decline in the landlords and property owners who are willing to accept housing vouchers such as Section 8, Thoeni said.
The city is trying to increase its affordable housing stock through policies such as the inclusionary housing ordinance, and moving forward with the Future Growth Area, a much-anticipated development that is expected to bring an estimated 11,445 new housing units to the city.
Other key findings in the report are as follows:
- An estimated 74% of all individuals counted were unsheltered, an increase from 71% in 2015. In the unsheltered category, 10% live in encampments, 32% live in vehicles, 25% live on the street and 7% live in abandoned buildings.
- Of the individuals sheltered, 15% were in transitional housing programs and 11% were in emergency shelters.
- Approximately 83% claimed Monterey County as their residence before becoming homeless.
- Health is a significant problem for the county’s homeless with 61% reporting one or more health conditions, 68% reporting they could not afford rent in the county and 55% reporting a lack of employment or income.
- The report also found that within the county, many of the homeless are children or young people. Some 598 homeless were under the age of 25 and 25% of those were under the age of 18. The number of homeless families saw a 37% growth from 2015. About 75% of those families - 160 families with 550 family members -were living in shelters. For example, this past winter, the emergency warming shelter in Salinas saw a surge in the number of homeless families with school-aged children and toddlers, many of whom returned night after night from the time the shelter opened in November and closed on May 30.
Thoeni pointed out the number of chronically homeless – defined by HUD as individuals or families who have experienced homelessness for a year or more or at least four times in the last three years – remains roughly the same as 2015 at 605.
Some subpopulations of homeless saw a decline, namely the veterans saw a 22% drop from 2015 and a little less than 50% from the previous report in 2013. Thoeni attributed the decline to a growth in the number of programs in rapid re-housing and homelessness prevention for veterans.
The county, the city of Salinas and neighboring cities are seeking solutions to homelessness. Staff and elected officials in the county and city are looking for a permanent location for a year-round warming shelter, one in Salinas and one on the Peninsula.
Salinas City Manager Ray Corpuz Jr. and Mayor Joe Gunter, along with leaders in surrounding cities, have been visiting cities such as San Francisco to see “what really works,” Gunter said.
At the June 20 City Council meeting, the council approved a resolution to renew the contract with City Data Services a web-based system that tracks housing loans and helps streamline the process for HUD’s annual funding cycle.
Council also approved a multi-year contract with the Institute of Urban Initiatives, which runs through 2019, to tackle oversight for initiatives such as Street Outreach, Housing navigation and examining existing contracts with existing programs and grants including for Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG).
The city also recommended an update to “Lead Me Home” a 10-year homeless plan for the homeless in Monterey and San Benito Counties.
There are also increased efforts by cities and the county to collaborate and work together towards solutions. Joe Gunter recently joined the board for the Coalition of Homeless Service Providers along with the Mayors of Gonzales, King City and Seaside.
The 2017 Monterey County Homeless Census Report can be accessed at:
Contact Government Reporter Amy Wu at 831-737-6791 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Wu on Twitter @wu_salnews or www.facebook.com/amywucalifornian.