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San Diego’s growing homeless population counted during yearly tally

Connie Mckrieth knows the pain of being homeless. She had been living out of a U-Haul van in Spring Valley since last August.

“I have an income but circumstances with the economy — I can't afford the permanent roof over my head,” she told KPBS.

Now Mckrieth is living in a transitional housing facility downtown, run by the nonprofit Serving Seniors. She’s waiting for permanent housing.


She said many people recently falling into homelessness are like her — not drug addicts — but impacted by serious health conditions and unable to afford rent in San Diego.

Jacob Aere
Connie Mckrieth talks to a Serving Seniors employee outside of her transitional housing unit, Jan. 26, 2023.

“I know there’s many like me,” Mckrieth said, while crying and speaking with a tremble in her voice. “I'm very grateful and appreciative. And some say ‘You still don't have a permanent place.’ From where I’ve been to this? I have all my basic needs met.”

Early Thursday morning, 1,600 volunteers at over 37 deployment sites throughout the county helped to put a number on San Diego’s growing homeless population.

The final numbers will take months to tally, but the early results of the point in time count — which were collected in real time on a mobile app — showed the issue is getting worse.


During a press conference with local officials, the numbers climbed by the hundreds.

“The majority of the people that we spoke to out on the street this morning said that they do want help. They want shelter. They want housing,” said San Diego City Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, who represents District 3. “It was inspiring to hear the degree to which they will accept the services, if we offer them.”

Serving Seniors President and CEO Paul Downey said the Point in Time count is far from perfect and the true number of people experiencing homelessness in the county is likely much higher.

“It is a flawed system,” he said. “We do the best we can to try to count every person who is unhoused in San Diego on a single day, but the undercount is probably 30% to 40%, at least.”

Downey said the current state of homelessness is the worst he’s seen in his 30 years working in the field.

He said local leaders need to do more to speed up affordable housing projects, connect residents to a wide range of shelter options and protect tenants on the brink of homelessness.

“These are our friends and neighbors and they became homeless here,” Downey said. “They didn't move here because San Diego's a great place to be homeless. They became homeless here because something bad happened to them, primarily economically, to lead them into this the spot that they're in now.”

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Jacob Aere
Serving Seniors CEO Paul Downey sits on a bed in a room at his organization's new transitional housing facility downtown, Jan. 26, 2023.

On the same day as the point in time count, a homeless shelter opened at the old Central Library in downtown.

The 36-bed shelter will operate at night and exclusively serve women. While a drop in the bucket, it's a tangible step to continue expanding shelter options in San Diego.

Official numbers for this year’s point in time count will be released in the coming months, which will help determine the amount of federal funding for homelessness directed to the region.

  • Whistleblowers alerted San Diego County about alleged poor treatment of employees in its public defender office in late 2020, before a multi-million dollar verdict. In other news, volunteers took to the streets to do the annual point-in-time count Thursday. Plus, we have details on some weekend arts events happening around San Diego County.
  • Hundreds of volunteers across the county coordinated this morning to accomplish one single task: record an accurate count of the region’s homeless population. Then, the woman at the center of a national conservative media firestorm, stemming from a shower she took at the Santee YMCA, addresses the Santee city council. Plus, the small California community of Half Moon Bay is still reeling from a mass shooting earlier this week. Later, a kitchen in Barrio Logan introduces students to potential culinary careers. Plus, we dig into our archive for a 2019 conversation with “Sesame Street” co-creator Lloyd Morrisett whose death was announced Monday. Finally, the San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition has a new leader who is reimagining a ‘new normal’ for local artists and arts organizations.

As a general assignment reporter, I report on a wide range of different issues that affect the diverse neighborhoods of San Diego County including business, health, arts & culture and politics.
What are issues affecting San Diego's most vulnerable?