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High Unemployment, Low Wages Drive Growing Homeless Population In Imperial County

Imperial County leaders speak about the region's homeless population, May 11, 2017.
Susan Murphy
Imperial County leaders speak about the region's homeless population, May 11, 2017.
Imperial County's Homeless Population Has Tripled Since Last Year
Imperial County's Homeless Population Has Tripled Since Last Year GUEST:Susan Murphy, reporter, KPBS News

San Diego, the 9000 individuals in the County. It is not respect County lines. They were conducted in the more sparsely populated county. They found of the number of homeless had almost tripled. Reporter Susan Mark the is in Imperial County to help us break down the information. Welcome to the program. Good afternoon from Imperial County. Last year Imperial Counties point in time count of nearly 400,000 people. What is the number this year. The number this year is about 1100 homeless people were telling in the January count. If you compare that the per capita rate is two times the state homelessness rate so it is a really huge problem here. Even now the numbers are lower than in San Diego the increase in the homeless population is really pretty incredible. It is almost a 200% increase. What accounts for this? This is one of the highest poverty areas in the nation. The unemployment rate here is nearly 20% and the rest of the nation is four point 4%. About a quarter of people here live in poverty a lot of them are surviving solely on income from food stamps. It is a high poverty area. The unemployment plus the low wages are huge contributing factors. Some of the people said they had more volunteers to count this time to that affect the numbers. Yes that didn't -- affect the numbers. I talked to the assistant state attorney Deborah Owens and got her take on the high numbers. She said that a more thorough count with more volunteers County definitely played a role the The reason I think we are hesitant to say there are more homeless able is that this point in time count is based on a coordinated effort and volunteers. Before it was difficult to get volunteers in terms of that coordinated approach. So when Nancy indicates we are not saying this is triple the amount of homeless people we believe because of tripling the amount of volunteers we have and more effective in grasping that snapshot A lot of people just like in San Diego the homeless population who they sleep on the streets and on park benches outside on tents and in sidewalks. There is an area called Plant City for the homeless people go. The same trends we have seen in San Diego. We had a increase in our count an increase in the uncharted population. In downtown of course we also had a 104% chance so we are seeing similar trends throughout the state. Kind of resources to they have for the homeless. They have some of your basic resources but they are lacking a lot of resources. They mentioned they are lacking shelter beds. This year's count found 128 people who were sleeping in shelter beds. That is the same number as 2016. That leaves the majority of people slipping out side on the street. The reason is they do not have shelters here. The conditions here are very harsh. In the summers they are blistering hot. Temperatures can sort up to 120 degrees. That is common. Rain barely exceeds a few inches per year. And might also come with frost. There's a lot of harsher conditions and are in San Diego. You know very well that San Diego is trying to do to transition homeless people into a permanent housing. Are they also trying to go with that strategy. Imperial County has just formed a task force. They are calling it the continuum of care. Started this new organization to start planning for resources. They want to build more shelters. Portable housing and permanent supportive housing are also plans that they also want to have a better system for tracking people and the issues they are dealing with whether it is drug addictions or substance abuse. Mental illness. So they are going to do this coordinated entry system which will be the first plan of attack in helping to at least reduce this issue. As email the purpose of the count is to get federal funding which is mandated I heard housing and urban development so they received federal funding depending on counts that different counties conduct every year. I've been speaking with reporter Susan Murphy in Imperial County. Thank you.

Imperial County’s homeless population has tripled compared to last year, driven in part by high unemployment and low wages, according to a report by the Imperial Valley Continuum of Care Council.

Countywide, nearly 1,100 homeless people were tallied during the annual count taken in January, up from 380 homeless people counted last year. All of the additional 691 people were sleeping outside on the streets.

County leaders gathered Thursday to unveil the sobering new numbers at the region's Catholic Charities, a nonprofit on West Orange Avenue that provides food, shelter and services to those in need.

Imperial County's homeless population is now twice the state average, according to the council. Deborah Owens, assistant district attorney, also credited the higher numbers to a more thorough count and an increase of volunteers who conducted the census.

"The reason that I think we are hesitant to say, 'Yes there are more homeless people,' is that this point-in-time count is based upon a coordinated effort and volunteers, and before, it was difficult to get volunteers in terms of that coordinated approach," she said, "so when Nancy says, 'We are not saying this is triple the number of homeless people,' we believe because of tripling the amount of volunteers we've been more effective in grasping that snapshot."

Imperial County’s Homeless Population Has Tripled Since Last Year
High Unemployment, Low Wages Drive Growing Homeless Population In Imperial County
Imperial County’s homeless population has tripled compared to last year, driven in part by high unemployment and low wages, according to a report by the Imperial Valley Continuum of Care Council.

The majority of homeless, 943 people, were found sleeping on the streets — in tents, under bridges and on park benches. Meanwhile, 128 people were staying in shelters — the same number as last year.

The staggering rise in the unsheltered homeless population is a trend seen throughout Southern California. In San Diego County, for example, the unsheltered homeless population increased 14 percent over last year, while in the city of San Diego, the number of tents and handmade structures soared 104 percent.

“This issue is complex, but we know that working together we can end homelessness in Imperial Valley,” said Deborah Owen, assistant district attorney of Imperial County. ”We need greater funding and resources to make this successful though.”

A survey of homeless people living in Imperial County found nearly 26 percent of unsheltered adults had suffered from mental illness, and nearly 20 percent reported a substance-use disorder. Veterans accounted for 11 percent of the homeless population.

Nearly half of unsheltered adults were chronically homeless, which is defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as someone with a disability who has been continuously homeless for a year or more.

More than 12 percent of respondents said they had been discharged “from a facility/institution in the last 30 days,” with jail or prison accounting for the majority.

Imperial Valley is located in the southeastern corner of California, bordering Mexico and Arizona. Blistering summer temperatures often top triple digits, and rainfall rarely exceeds 3 inches. Many of the region’s 180,000 residents have long depended on agriculture and cash crops for income, including alfalfa, spinach, potatoes and broccoli. Other top employers include wind and solar farms and two large state prisons that together detain 7,300 inmates.

The region carries the highest unemployment rate in the state, with nearly 20 percent of people unemployed, according to a March 2017 report by the the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Statewide, the unemployment rate was 5.1 percent and the national average was 4.6 percent.

Nearly 25 percent of the county’s residents live in poverty, with the annual median household income at approximately $41,000.

County officials are working to implement a Coordinated Entry System to direct homeless people to essential services. “By directing them to the one place they need to go versus a trial and error method of knocking on a variety of doors to end in the right place,” the report states.

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