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Riverside County's homeless numbers up dramatically, new tally shows

May 9, 2011 |  6:00 pm

The number of people in Riverside County who are homeless on any given day has increased an estimated 84% in the last two years, officials said Monday.

A countywide tally Jan. 24 found 6,203 people living in emergency shelters, transitional housing or places not fit for human habitation, such as sidewalks, cars and abandoned buildings. The last count in 2009 put the figure at 3,366.

The increase in the county’s chronically homeless population was even more significant: from 969 people in 2009 to 2,515 in 2011, a 160% jump. The county defines chronically homeless as people with a disabling condition who have been without a roof over their heads for a year or longer, or who have experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years.

Ronald A. Stewart, interim deputy director of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services, attributed the increases in part to the economic downturn, which he said began to be felt in 2009.

“Record unemployment and housing foreclosures made Riverside County one of the hardest-hit areas in the state and nation,” Stewart said in a statement. “This year’s count clearly indicates the economic downturn has pushed more people out of their homes and has left them homeless longer.”

The county also made changes this year to its census methodology, which made for a more complete count, Stewart said in an interview. They included sending a homeless person out with every team that conducted the count, to help find the places where people sleep.

The last homeless census found that the population had declined from about 4,400 in 2007 to nearly 3,400 in 2009, a fact Stewart attributed to improvements in county services and efforts to secure more funding from the federal government to address homelessness.

“The biggest challenge really has become the scarcity of public funds,” he said. “For the county to step in and do anything more is just not on the table at the moment. We’re working hard to continue what we have.”

To qualify for federal funding to assist the homeless, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department requires communities to count their homeless populations during a specific period every two years. Similar efforts took place nationwide earlier this year. More than 200 volunteers, city and county staffers helped conduct this year’s count.


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 -- Alexandra Zavis