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Sacramento State researchers document startling jump in homelessness in county

(Graphic: Sacramento State/Sam Macacapal. Photo: Creative Commons/Vurnman)

An effort by Sacramento State researchers and others to document the number of homeless people in Sacramento County revealed a dramatic increase in the number of people who are without permanent shelter.

The Point in Time Count showed a 67% jump compared to the previous count in 2019.

Nonprofit homeless agency Sacramento Steps Forward coordinated the count over two consecutive nights in late February.

Sac State’s Division of Social Work and the Center for Health Practice, Policy, and Research prepared a report based on information gathered by hundreds of volunteers who surveyed people at shelters, encampments, in parks, and on the streets across the county.

Homeless count
A researcher collects information from an unhoused man during the 2022 Point In Time Count in Sacramento County. (Courtesy Sacramento Steps Forward)

The report, “Homelessness in Sacramento County,” revealed that an estimated 9,278 people were homeless on the nights of Feb. 23 and Feb. 24. More than 70% of the individuals were sleeping outdoors, rather than in shelters. The 2019 Point in Time Count tallied 5,570 people experiencing homelessness in the county.

Sac State’s Community Engagement Center helped recruit volunteers to make the count, and the University provided space for them to gather before fanning out across the county.

Social Work faculty mapped areas where homeless people typically dwell, and helped dispatch teams to those locations. Researchers prepared a comprehensive report that is being shared with county and city leaders, and others who seek solutions to homelessness in the region.

“The report offers an honest assessment of the situation,” said Arturo Baiocchi, an associate professor of Social Work who led the Sac State effort. “If you really want to know what’s going on with homelessness, you send hundreds of people outside to talk to the folks who are living out there.”

Baiocchi worked with Social Work faculty Susanna Curry, Frances Furio, Kyle Caler, and Ethan Evans on the report.

Baiocchi said the project creates for volunteers, including Sac State students, faculty, and staff, “an opportunity to engage with people on the streets” and gain a better understanding of the root causes of homelessness. The information gathered could help shape public policy around the issue, he said. 

Key findings in the 2022 Point In Time Count include:

  • Nearly 80% of those counted in February were individuals; 15% were families with children; 5% were youths
  • Volunteers identified 1,600 tents and 1,100 vehicles being used as housing, four times more than in 2019.
  • African Americans continued to be disproportionately represented in the county’s homeless population, totaling 31% of people experiencing homelessness at just 11% of the county’s overall population.
  • Fewer veterans were documented as homeless compared to 2019, with their numbers decreasing by 6%.
  • The number of people reporting a disability while being chronically homeless more than doubled since 2019. Nearly 60% of unsheltered adults reported at least one disability.
  • 60% of people counted became homeless more than three years ago.

The uptick in the overall number of homeless people is, in part, a result of better counting techniques, Baiocchi said. However, it also reflects a jump in the actual number of unsheltered individuals, some of whom may have been pushed from their homes by rising rents and other economic pressures in the region, he said.

Homeless people, many of whom live in the shadows, “always will be undercounted,” Baiocchi said.

“Even with 500 volunteers, it’s impossible to count them all. But we do our best to be as accurate as possible, and we’re finding larger and larger numbers.”

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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