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SLO County's 2022 data shows fewer homeless people than in previous count 

Almost six months after conducting its Homelessness Point in Time (PIT) Count and Survey, San Luis Obispo County released data on the single-day snapshot of transiency across the region.

click to enlarge TROUBLESHOOTING The 2022 Homelessness Point in Time Count for San Luis Obispo County had fewer peer guides; their familiarity with where the homeless live helps volunteers make an accurate count. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SLO COUNTY HOMELESSNESS POINT IN TIME COUNT REPORT
  • Photo Courtesy Of The SLO County Homelessness Point In Time Count Report
  • TROUBLESHOOTING The 2022 Homelessness Point in Time Count for San Luis Obispo County had fewer peer guides; their familiarity with where the homeless live helps volunteers make an accurate count.

The verdict: The number of homeless people counted this year compared to the previous 2019 count decreased by 2 percent. This year, the team of 80 volunteers—residents, nonprofit service provider and outreach staff, and county and city leaders—counted 1,448 homeless people. In 2019, the group counted 1,483 homeless people.

This year, the volunteers were unable to use peer guides to help them, which made it more difficult to find all the people experiencing homelessness. Peer guides are people with lived experiences of homelessness who are familiar with where the homeless are living, like in encampments or parks. In the past, the Department of Social Services paired the guides with volunteer groups to assist with the count.

"Since COVID happened, through Public Health and HUD [Housing and Urban Development] guidance, we weren't mixing and matching different households. So most of the volunteer teams were pretty much going off on their own, and with COVID had a lack of recruiting peer guides. That's a big aspect of the count: We rely on the knowledge of the peer guides," said George Solis, the program manager at the county's Homeless Services Division.

Solis added that while the numbers could be "a little off" in the northern and central county regions, the PIT team is "fairly confident" that South County had a strong count because of the high number of volunteers and outreach teams in that area.

The PIT Count experienced two delays. The first involved conducting the count itself. Last carried out in 2019, the process is supposed to take place over a 24-hour period every two years. But COVID-19 derailed SLO County's plans in 2021. Further, after the county completed the count on Feb. 23, the data wasn't released until July. Santa Barbara County, on the other hand, released its data less than a month after it conducted its homelessness count, also on Feb. 23.

Solis told New Times that the county doesn't tabulate the data.

"The county of San Luis Obispo uses an outside vendor [Applied Survey Research] to coordinate our count and compile all the data and do all the data analysis. Our data is handled outside of the county," Solis said. "This is pretty much standard; we usually get our report sometime early in the summer."

Some other key findings include the primary cause of homelessness being an argument with a family or friend who asked the person to leave. Another finding showed that respondents who became homeless for the first time jumped from 27 percent in 2019 to 32 percent in 2022. Also, thirty-eight percent of respondents said they received a COVID-19 vaccine.

The county's next order of business is releasing a local request for proposals for the HUD Continuum of Care Competition funding. In fiscal year 2021, SLO County received $1.1 million through this plan. It's one of the funding streams it receives to address homelessness, and funding depends on the number of homeless people the PIT Count identifies.

Solis told New Times about the county's plans to continue with the count in a post-pandemic world. The next PIT Count is scheduled for January 2024.

"Before we would do a lot more physical appointments. All the volunteers would show up at a designated place and then they'd go off to do the count. We've learned [this year] that we can do a lot more things remotely. All the volunteers received all their information and their maps via email," he said. "We would definitely put more effort into recruiting peer guides.

"We will take the lessons learned from this to make sure we can still do an accurate count with an emphasis on safety." Δ

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