The number of people experiencing homelessness in San Mateo County is up 21% from what it was two years ago, the results of a one-day count conducted in January show.
In the communities covered by The Almanac, however, the number of people experiencing homelessness decreased or changed little from the previous count. The county reported that 27 unsheltered people experiencing homelessness were reported in Menlo Park in 2019, compared with 47 in 2017, roughly a 42% decrease. One person was reported in Atherton, and none in Woodside or Portola Valley.
About 400 volunteers canvassed each street in each census tract in the county, by car and on foot, in the early morning hours of Jan 31. They counted a total of 1,512 people experiencing homelessness countywide, compared with 1,253 people counted in 2017. Previous reports have had higher numbers: In 2011, there were a total of 1,861 homeless people reported, and in 2013, the number spiked to 2,002 people.
The county reported that there was a 127% increase in the number of people living in RVs compared with 2017, and a 24% increase in the number of people sleeping on the streets. The count results also showed a 7% decrease in the number of people believed to be sleeping in cars and a 31% decrease in the number of people estimated to be sleeping in tents or encampments prior to the previous count.
Of the people counted as "unsheltered," 55% or 494 people were counted living in RVs, with another 20% of people living in cars. People on the street represented another 17%, and people in tents or encampments totaled 7%.
Of those, the number of sheltered individuals dropped slightly, to 611 from 616 people.
The count is done every two years, and does have its limitations in capturing the full range of people for who live with housing insecurity. The point-in-time count is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and adheres to a specific definition of who should be considered homeless: someone who doesn't have a fixed, regular and adequate place of residence, or someone whose nighttime residence is a temporary shelter, an institution, or a place that's not designated or used as a living area. People who are at risk of homelessness due to unstable living conditions or are couch surfing, for instance, are not counted.
"We know that ending homelessness is more than a quick fix, especially because individuals experience homelessness for a variety of unique reasons," San Mateo County Supervisor Carole Groom said.
"With the count and surveys showing us what current factors are in play, we are better equipped to take the right steps toward solutions," she said in a press statement.
Housing costs are a factor that contributes to people's risks of experiencing housing instability and homelessness, according to Nicole Pollack, director of San Mateo County's Human Services Agency. Between 2016 and 2019, the fair market rate for a studio apartment in San Mateo County increased by 47 percent, according to the statement.
"The count is a large endeavor and wouldn't be possible without the participation of hundreds of volunteers. We're grateful to our community members, community-based organizations and County and city staff who participated in the count," Pollack said in the press statement. "I'd also like to say thank you to the homeless service providers who work intensely every day to help people find and keep housing."