For Immediate Release

Sonoma County 2018 Homeless Count Foreshadows Post-Fire Rise in Homelessness

Santa Rosa, CA  –  July 6, 2018  –  Santa Rosa, CA. - The Sonoma County Community Development Commission conducted its annual 24-hour “Homeless Count” on February 23, 2018.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development requires the homeless count for the County to be eligible for $3.4 million dollars in annual homeless services funding. The Count also measures the impact of local homeless services. For the past seven years, the number of people experiencing homelessness has been decreasing. This year, the number is up 6%. The housing shortage following the October 2017 played a role in the increase.  

 For the first time this year, the Commission’s Homeless Count consultants conducted a telephone survey to learn about people who are living in unstable situations. These are people who are couch surfing or doubled up, or who have no lease. The homeless count, along with the telephone survey, suggest a new wave of people are already becoming homeless as they exhaust their resources following the fires. Thousands more are at risk.

An executive summary and full report of the 2018 Homeless Count is available here.

Some of the key data points from the Count are: 

  • 2,996 homeless persons were found. This means they were living in a place not meant for human habitation or in a shelter or transitional housing. This number is up 161 persons from 2017. 
  • 1,067 people were living in shelters or transitional housing for homeless persons. Sheltered people made up 36% of the total.  1,929 people were living outside -64% of the total. The number of sheltered people increased by 79 (8%) from 2017. The number of people living outside increased by 82 (4%) from 2017.

In some parts of the county, the participation of knowledgeable outreach staff resulted in higher counts.  The efforts of homeless service providers to place people into permanent housing led to decreases in other parts of the county, such as West County. Housing displacement in the wake of the 2017 fires clearly contributed to the increase of overall homelessness, especially in the City of Santa Rosa. 

In addition to the point-in-time count, a follow up survey was conducted to gain insight on their experiences and characteristics of people experiencing homelessness, and to understand where housing efforts are succeeding:

The survey found: 

  • The percentage of people having their first experience of homelessness increased significantly – from 24% to 35%.  This strongly indicates that the October 2017 fires played a role in the increase in the homeless count.
  • The number of chronically homeless people rose from 598 in 2017 to 747 in 2018.
  • The number of homeless single adults also rose slightly, from 2,393 in 2017 to 2,623 in 2018.
  • The number of homeless veterans decreased slightly from a year ago – from 211 to 207;
  • The number of homeless families with children decreased from 111 to 104;
  • The number of homeless youth decreased from 532 to 515.

The Commission contracted with consulting firm Applied Survey Research, to design and implement the Homeless Count and companion telephone survey. The telephone survey assessed people who are living doubled up, couch surfing or with no formal lease. People living in these situations are the most at risk of becoming homeless.  Through nearly 1,200 surveys, this study showed that approximately 21,400 County residents are living in unstable housing situations—more than 4% of the population. Applied Survey Research estimates that one-half of the people living in unstable conditions lost their housing as a direct result of the fires, or due to the fires’ economic impact. This comes to about 10,700 people.

One of the most striking findings in the telephone survey was that 43% of the people living in unstable conditions because of the fires were 55 or older. In the rest of the unstably housed population, only 22% were seniors. There is concern because many older people are on fixed incomes and will struggle to find housing again in the current rental market. 

The results of the Count and its companion surveys suggest that Sonoma County has not yet fully felt how the fires will affect homelessness.  The small increase in people experiencing homelessness in the 2018 Homeless Count is likely the first wave of homelessness due to the fires. This first wave has hit those with the fewest resources. The market is pushing housing further out of reach. Soon, residents who are using up social and financial resources may lose their housing too. Those with limited resources, particularly seniors, are especially at risk of losing their housing in the next two years. 

The County has invested significant local dollars, and homeless service providers have worked diligently, to place people experiencing homelessness into permanent, safe housing. The lessons learned from this work will inform how the County and its partners use both existing and new resources to respond to the dramatic increase in homelessness they anticipate. 

At the July 10 meeting of the Board of Supervisors, the Community Development Commission will present the findings of the 2018 Homeless Count Report and propose strategies for addressing the forecasted homeless emergency.


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Sonoma County Community Development Commission

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Santa Rosa, CA 95403