Orange County’s first ‘spot’ homeless count since 2019 shows 16.5% fewer riders in the county since the last time a count could be made due to the COVID-19 pandemic .
While Orange County officials were pleased and credited a surge in homeless services since settling a federal lawsuit stemming from the cleanup of an encampment in the Anaheim riverbed, they pointed out that it was a snapshot in time and they had more to do with the problem.
“It’s a one-day count in time,” said Orange County CEO Frank Kim. “One thing we want to focus on and discuss with the (county homeless commission) is doing the counts more frequently. Is there any value in that? Most jurisdictions do it twice a year, which is mandatory, but nothing prevents you from doing it more frequently. Is there any value in doing it more regularly? What is the value? How much does it cost and what is it? what do we gain?
Kim told City News Service: ‘I don’t think we congratulate each other. It would be inappropriate.
But Kim said he was confident the census was accurate, noting he joined volunteers to help with the census in February in Anaheim.
“In my experience, we did the same thing” as in 2019, Kim said. “They divided us into groups of three, gave us a map provided by law enforcement and local awareness organizations. After (following) the map, I went to other areas because we had more time to locate more homeless people.
Doug Becht, director of the Care Coordination Office for Homeless Services, said officials “spent months working with outreach providers” to coordinate the search. A smartphone app helped monitor where volunteers went to guard against undercounting.
“We were able to cover the same amount of maps and the same geographic area, and not just cover it, but cover it twice like we did in 2019,” Becht said. “I feel strong behind the methodology and that it hasn’t been affected by COVID-19 or the surge we had” in February, he added.
Supervisor Andrew Do, who was instrumental in the county’s efforts to increase homeless services during the federal trial while serving as chairman of the board of supervisors, welcomed the census results.
“The increase in the number of homeless residents housed across all categories, including veterans, transitioning youth and seniors, is proof that the regional approach to county service planning areas is working,” said Do. “This creates a practical framework for cities to work together to meet the different needs of the region’s homeless population. This is the reason why I proposed the creation of the Departmental Care Coordination Office.
County officials have worked to increase mental health and outreach services for people passing through the area since the lawsuits settled. And new shelters have been built in Placentia, Buena Park and Santa Ana.
Orange County Board Chairman Doug Chaffee said about 70 percent of area visitors responded to the survey, up from about 60 percent in 2019.
“Today’s takeout is good news, but we still have work to do,” Board Vice Chairman Don Wagner said at a press conference. “I want to make sure we don’t lose sight of this being good news and the result of extremely hard work. I’d love to say it’s because of the oversight board, but the reality is that we have community partners, we have substantial membership, we have private partners, who have worked extremely hard over the years, for us bring it to where we are today. Each of these people can congratulate themselves.
Becht said data indicates the homeless population is aging and more disabled.
“Compared to 2019 (the homeless) are on average older and come to us with more disabling conditions and needs,” Becht said. “We see a more vulnerable population.”
The census showed there were 5,718 counted homeless people, including 2,419 in the northern part of the county, 2,714 in the central part of the county and 585 in the southern part. Of these, 280 were veterans, 235 were between the ages of 18 and 24, and 718 were seniors aged 62 and older.
The number of unsheltered people was 3,057, including 1,113 in the northern part of the county, 1,522 in the central part and 422 in the southern part of the county. Among them, 145 were veterans, 109 were between 18 and 24 years old and 300 were elderly.