Sonoma County saw an overall 22 percent decrease in the area’s homeless population last year, according to preliminary results of the 2023 Sonoma County Point-in-Time survey.
A summary of the one-day count, conducted on Jan. 27, 2023, was released May 24 by the County’s Department of Health Services (DHS). It found 2,266 individuals experiencing some form of homelessness, down from the 2,893 counted in 2022. The 22 percent decrease in homelessness is the largest reduction since a 27 percent decrease in 2015.
Meanwhile, the number of homeless individuals in unsheltered circumstances decreased from 2,088 in 2022 to 1,291 in 2023. The reduction reflects an overall increase in the number of beds available at new housing projects in the county, according to the summary document.
The good news comes with a disclaimer: the single-day count is based on visual observations of unsheltered individuals and groups, as well as a census of people in shelters, and as a result only provides a snapshot of homelessness during a single point in time. “It is a valuable count,” officials said, “(but) it may not adequately reflect the total number of people experiencing homelessness throughout the year.”
“These numbers are incredibly encouraging and are a reflection of the hard work of many across Sonoma County who, through innovative programs and partnerships, are helping homeless residents get off the streets,” said Supervisor Chris Coursey, chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. “These efforts, including the passage of Measure O by county voters, are truly making a difference and changing lives. As the report notes we have more work to do but we are moving in the right direction.”
Preliminary results are in line with an overall downward trend since 2011, according to the DHS, with the exception being in early 2022 when, during a COVID pandemic surge, the county saw a 5 percent increase in homelessness. Projects such as Homekey, new safe parking and interim housing sites, housing vouchers and rental assistance have continued to play a pivotal role in the decrease throughout Sonoma County, the summary said.
“This progress comes from focus and coordination,” said Tina Rivera, Director of the Sonoma County Department of Health Services. “The county team and our partner cities have pushed hard to place more housing units in operation and to provide strong supportive services to help keep people housed. While we’re thankful for these numbers, we still have 2,266 people to move into housing.”
Officials attributed the reversal, in part, to more housing coming on line after several years of increased spending.
More affordable housing is underway, too, including housing for the county’s most vulnerable residents. As an example, the DHS sites Caritas Village in Santa Rosa. Caritas Center, which opened in 2022, includes a housing support service center and emergency family shelter, developed and operated by Catholic Charities. Caritas Homes’ Phase I will accept its first residents as soon as June 2023, with 30 of 64 units reserved for persons who were chronically homeless. Phase II is identical and is in the process of securing funding commitments.
Meanwhile, Shiloh Terrace in Windsor, 414 Petaluma Apartments in Petaluma and a senior housing project in Santa Rosa are also currently under construction. More than 100 units of housing will be made available through these projects alone.
Not mentioned was Homeless Action Sonoma’s plan for a “Home and Safe” Village of 22 temporary shelters on Highway 12 in the Springs (above). The project has received provisional County funding.
The count’s preliminary numbers include homeless subpopulations, many of which saw significant reductions in 2023. The count found:
At the time of this year’s count, about 40 individuals were sheltered within 35 trailers located on Sonoma County Fairgrounds property. Another 55 homeless were housed at Los Guilicos Village. These 90 individuals were counted as sheltered homeless individuals. Those encamped on the Joe Rodota Trail as of Jan. 27, many of whom later would be offered housing at the county’s emergency shelter site, were counted as unsheltered homeless.
Unlike the 2022 count, the 2023 census was conducted in a manner similar to pre-COVID counts. All deployments were in person, and maps were chosen ahead of time by city and nonprofit partners in all areas of the county where individuals experiencing homelessness were known to be. Community volunteers also were involved in selecting maps to ensure countywide coverage.
A more detailed breakdown of the count by cities and regions, as well as demographic data, will be made available this summer.