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Department of Health Services

For Immediate Release

Preliminary 2024 Point-in-Time homeless count numbers rise as COVID-era programs end

SANTA ROSA, CA | June 18, 2024

After registering a decrease of 22 percent of people experiencing homelessness in Sonoma County in 2023, preliminary results of the Sonoma County Point-in-Time count for 2024 recorded an overall 11 percent increase. The annual one-day snapshot, conducted on January 26 from 5 to 10 a.m. across Sonoma County, located a total of 2,522 people experiencing homelessness, up from 2,266 in 2023.  

“While we want the number lower, Sonoma, like most of California’s counties, saw an increase in the Point-in-Time Count post-pandemic and it’s not that surprising,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. “We need to continue to invest in proven strategies to decrease our unhoused population and ease the burden on our communities.”

The full count report, including a breakdown of the count by cities and regions, as well as demographic data and causes of homelessness, will be made available this summer and provide insights into the reasons for the increase. Possible causes include:

  • The closing of additional COVID-era sheltering and other supportive programs
  • Continued lack of affordable housing 
  • Individuals experiencing first-time homelessness
  • Lack of homelessness prevention programs
  • Doing a better job of counting homeless individuals this year

By the end of 2023, most of the national and state funding for shelter sites set in place during the COVID emergency had ended and the sites were demobilized. This inevitably meant that many of the homeless individuals, some of whom had been housed for two years during the crisis, had no recourse but to return to the streets.

“Department of Health Services staff worked so hard during the pandemic to house people and then to rehouse them once the COVID-generated programs started closing, but when the funding disappeared, large numbers of beds disappeared as well,” said DHS Director Tina Rivera. “Not to say there aren’t some bright spots amid these numbers; for example, we’ve seen a decline in homelessness for families. And we are about to launch a homelessness prevention program with our partners, which is very exciting because we are hoping to stop people from becoming homeless in the first place.”

Coordinated by the Cities of Santa Rosa and Petaluma and the County, along with the nonprofit organization All Home, the new $2.6 million homelessness prevention pilot program is slated to begin this summer and will address inflow and first-time homelessness.  

Additional statistics from the 2024 count

The number of individuals in unsheltered circumstances increased from 1,291 in 2023 to 1,577 in 2024. At the same time, the number of individuals in sheltered circumstances decreased from 975 in 2023 to 945 in 2024. “Unsheltered” individuals are defined as those who live in a place not meant for human habitation, such as cars, parks, sidewalks and abandoned buildings. “Sheltered” homelessness pertains to those who live in an emergency shelter or transitional housing.

The 2024 count’s preliminary numbers include homeless subpopulations as required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, some of which saw decreases and some of which saw increases. This year’s count found:

  • 606 individuals experiencing “chronic homelessness,” defined as those who have been homeless for at least 12 months or on at least four separate occasions in the previous three years (and who have one or more disabling conditions). This total reflects a 10 percent increase from the 550 individuals identified in 2023.
  • 162 homeless veterans, a 47 percent increase from 110 in 2023.
  • 57 families (identified as having at least one adult over 18 with at least one child under 18) experiencing homelessness, totaling 198 people. This is a reduction of 9 percent from 2023 in the number of family households. Almost all families were found to be in sheltered settings in 2024.
  • 10 unaccompanied children (persons under the age of 18 without parents) and 147 transition-age youth ages 18–24 were counted. This is a reduction of 50 percent from 2023. 

“The 50 percent reduction in homelessness among youth looks really good, but we have to keep in mind that the Count took place before the abrupt closure in February of Social Advocates for Youth,” said Ending Homelessness Program Manager Michael Gause. “SAY was one of the largest providers serving transition-age youth and unaccompanied children in the county and their demise, despite everyone’s best efforts, probably means that these numbers are actually higher now.”

How the count is done

The 2024 count was conducted in a manner similar to 2023 and previous years, aside from 2022. 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.  

This was also the first year that the count included Regional “By-Name-List” representatives from all five regions of the county. By-Names-List efforts, part of the Continuum of Care’s Five-Year Strategic Plan on Homelessness, have compiled lists of individuals experiencing homelessness by name. This likely increased the accuracy of the count as volunteers and paid homeless guides were able to locate individuals more accurately.

The PIT count is based on visual observations of unsheltered individuals and groups, as well as a census of people in shelters; as a result, it only provides a snapshot of homelessness during a single point in time. It is a valuable count, but County officials note that it may not adequately reflect the total number of people experiencing homelessness throughout the year.

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Media Contact:
Sheri Cardo, DHS Communications Specialist
(707) 565-8619