Fewer homeless, but more to the story

Kent Davy

2013_COLUMN_DAVY_newA verse in Matthew reminds us that “you will have the poor with you always” – the gospel writer is probably referring to the homeless, too.

Even though a great many goodhearted people try to make sure there’s a roof over every head, it’s never going to work out for everyone.

And that is true again this year.

The summary numbers are in for the San Diego “We All Count” annual point-in-time survey, conducted on a rainy day in late January.

The some 90 volunteers working under the leadership of the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless found 8,900 – a 7.7 percent decrease from the year before.

But before you think that’s good news, consider this: It was cold and rainy on the day of the count.

Organizers gave assurances to those of us who patrolled neighborhoods that morning (my octogenarian friend, Betsy, and I covered Encinitas east of Interstate 5 and south of Encinitas Boulevard) that we weren’t the only team that suffered a shutout during the count.

It only stands to reason that people on the street find spots out of the way and out of the rain when it falls – making it harder for watchers to spot them.

An indication that this is true may be the fact that the countywide sheltered numbers that morning showed only a slight decrease, from 4,371 to 4,326, while the unsheltered number dropped 13 percent.

That the problem should have eased in the current economic climate with the county hovering around 7.7 percent seems unlikely.

In Encinitas, those counting found 63 people in emergency shelters, 15 in transitional housing and 30 unsheltered people (more than half of the unsheltered were in their cars).

A snapshot of the data unsurprisingly (at least to me) shows that the county’s homeless population may not fit the picture that many people imagine.

For instance, while it may not surprise you that three quarters are male, would you guess that 69 percent say they have been homeless for more than a year – this time?

Or, that only roughly a third of the homeless are “high level substance abusers” or have severe mental health issues?

And, a third have at least some college experience?

From the details of the 2012 count (found here: www.rtfhsd.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/2012-RHP-Summary.pdf, the 2013 specifics are not available yet), more details emerge:

  • 39 percent of unsheltered homeless people were over the age of 50;
  • 18 percent were veterans (surely we should do better for those who served, shouldn’t we?);
  • 11 percent were victims of domestic violence;

A homeless woman who spent this winter in the Interfaith Shelter Network for coastal North County described herself to me as someone who was once at the top of the heap: A businesswoman, she had money, prestige, influence.

She said she had fled an abusive relationship back East, lost her car in Arizona and ended up here.

“I had 30 cents in my pocket,” the woman said.

That’s not going to even get you a cup of coffee, let alone a roof for the night.

Kent Davy is the former editor of the daily North County Times. Contact him by email at kent2davy@gmail.com.