The number of homeless people in San Diego County is down 4 percent, according to this year’s point-in-time homeless count, and long-term data shows the city’s efforts to provide shelter and aid might be paying off.

Here’s how the Regional Task Force on the Homeless’ WeALLCount process has worked in the past:

Every January, while it’s still dark early in the morning, hundreds of volunteers wielding flashlights and maps of U.S. Census tracts fan out across the county in cars and on foot, depending on their zone. They count the number of people they see sleeping in tents, cars and makeshift structures, and on streets and sidewalks.

Then the organization adds in the number of people the region’s shelters reported were sleeping there on the same night. This particular kind of count — a point-in-time snapshot — is required for any region to be considered for federal funding to combat homelessness.

Based on the task force’s data, there’s been a 12 percent increase in the number of homeless people in shelters since 2010.

Here’s how the number has changed over the years:

San Diego County’s Homeless Population Over the Years


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

San Diego still had by far the highest number of homeless people among cities in the county. The census includes 19 cities and 14 unincorporated areas, and 62.9 percent of the total population counted was in the city of San Diego alone. Escondido came in a distant second, with 6.7 percent of the population counted this year.

Here’s a look at the cities within the county with the highest homeless populations:

And here’s a more detailed breakdown of the homeless population in the city of San Diego:


The number of homeless people without shelter in downtown San Diego ticked up from 2011 through 2013, but went down in 2014. Task force reps were unable to pinpoint a specific effort that would explain the decrease, or the decline in the overall population in the county.

Officials in San Diego have said the opening of the transitional Connections Housing facility, as well as ex-Mayor Bob Filner’s push to increase funding for homeless shelters and encourage cooperation between various groups that aid the homeless, have all helped.

The Serial Inebriate Program, a multi-agency effort intended to help homeless people deal with alcohol and substance abuse issues, placed 720 people in treatment and housing programs last year. That was an 84 percent increase from the arrangements made in 2012.

Increased resources in the past year were key to that spike, said San Diego Police Lt. Debra Farrar, who oversees the department’s homeless outreach team.

Farrar’s team spends most of its time in downtown San Diego, where another group besides the regional task force keeps a close eye on the homeless population.

The Downtown San Diego Partnership, a business group, routinely counts homeless residents in five central city neighborhoods, and releases its own numbers. One night a month, a team from the organization tallies the number of people sleeping on downtown streets between midnight and 6 a.m.

The numbers tend to fluctuate by season and time of year, so here’s a look at the average number of homeless people the group found in these five neighborhoods the past few years.

Right now, the challenge downtown appears to be in the East Village and Gaslamp District – probably a good place for the task force to start during next year’s count.

    This article relates to: Homelessness, News, Share

    Written by Ana Ceballos

    Ana Ceballos is a reporting intern at Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter: @ceballosap.

    Michael Schroyer
    Michael Schroyer

    San Diegans Love to Say Hay Are Homeless Population is Shrinking when actual reports say that San Diego Ranks Third in the Nation..  First of all let me tell you where they get their statistics 1. Saint Vincent De Pauls, Catholic Charities, The Alpha Project, 2. Homeless Shelters and 3. Jail.  This is where they must "register" as Homeless The sad truth is that only counts for a fraction of Homeless in the City of San Diego.  Homelessness in the city of San Diego has reached epidemic proportions. The city ranks third in the nation, after New York and Los Angeles, in terms of its overall homeless population. According to recent estimates, some 10,000 homeless reside in the city of 1.3 million. A lot of Homeless live in Parks such as Balboa Park, Florida Canyon, Under Bridges in Ally Ways.This number most likely under-reports the problem, as the homeless population is very difficult to track. 

    Earlier attempts by the city to completely end homelessness have already failed. In 2006, the city devised the “Plan to End Chronic Homelessness,” which included building 2,000 new housing units for the most severe cases by the end of 2012. People are considered chronically homeless if they have been homeless for a year or have been so at least four times in the past three months. This plan was only designed for a portion of the total homeless population, and as the deadline passed, chronic homelessness remained a major problem in San Diego.

    The plight of the homeless has become particularly pronounced during the winter season. Although San Diego has a temperate climate, nighttime lows can dip near freezing especially in low lying areas such as canyons. While more than 800 of the homeless were expected to receive housing, food, and other amenities from the city’s Downtown Emergency Winter Shelter, these figures do not represent even 10 percent of the total homeless population in San Diego. This leaves many without any shelter, food or medical services.

    A report released by The Center on Policy Initiatives last year establishes a dramatic increase of those living in poverty within San Diego; 15.1 percent of the population lives below the federal poverty level (FPL). This is a drastic increase from 11.1 percent living below the poverty line in 2007, before the onset of the economic crisis. However, the method for measuring the FPL systematically underestimates the problem. A family of four is considered impoverished if they make an annual income of $22,811 or less, while an individual must make $11,484 or less (see “Homelessness and hunger on the rise in San Diego, California”).

    This dismal state of affairs naturally puts a strain on large sections of the population. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 633,782 homeless people live within the United States. Of the 10,000 officially documented homeless people living in San Diego, one in four is between 18 and 30 years of age, one in six is a military veteran, and one in three has a family. In total, one in four is chronically homeless.

    The calculations for the HUD report were conducted by the “point-in-time calculation.” The “point-in-time” was conducted on a one-night count in January 2012, consisting of the homeless shelter staff counting the homeless in and around the streets and shelters only for the larger metropolitan areas. Though stated by the HUD report that homelessness has decreased by nearly 6 percent, this method only points to the conclusion that the actual homeless population is much higher.

    The shelters that exist to provide aid to homeless families are under dire strain from the recent influx of new families. For example, The San Diego Rescue Mission, which acts as a shelter for women and children, has a capacity of 60. However, Molly Downs, an emergency service director for the institute reported to KPBS, a local news source, that these shelters have been overflowing recently with the arrival of new homeless families. Some nights have had as many as 96 families in one shelter alone. These figures mostly include women and children. The Rescue Mission, like similar institutions, is a short-term solution for families in poverty. The city has no plans for instituting a long-term housing program.

    Nearly all efforts made to alleviate homelessness have come from volunteer organizations, where the real scale of the problem can be registered. These efforts can offer only a temporary respite to the hardships of homelessness and poverty. One such example is Project Homeless Connect, which held its seventh annual one-day fair for the unsheltered on January 30. The fair offered free services such as health screening, flu shots, haircuts, and housing counseling. In all, around 1,150 people lined up for assistance including young children, adults, and many military veterans.

    BBarker subscriber

    Shrinking? Thats hilarious. I lived here 15 years and moved to Miami 3 years ago.  I am back this summer to visit and I can't take my freaking dog for a walk without dodging 10 homeless people.  And all I do is cross the street.  And I am in the ritziest area of downtown (by the hilton/convention center / 4th ave). There are drunk people passed out all over the park benches here, some dude vomiting on the sidewalk, three sleeping bags, and one dude literally laying in the middle of the doggy potty park where I have to take my dog.  He freaks out, barks nonstop, and I feel like asking "Where are the police to move these people???"  Its ridiculous. I went to Balboa park today with my dog, hoping for a nice walk.  Nope.  Some dude with all his trash set up shop on the edge of a hill there.  Had to veer away from him.  Im walking down 4th yesterday.  Some insane drunk black dude starts yelling at the top of his lungs at a 90 year old white woman in front of me:  "IS THAT YOUR BULLDOG!!!!!!!!!!!"  (he was on my leash).  Poor lady was terrified to death by the screaming.  I've only been back 1 week.  Want more stories?  I've got them.

    San Diego's downtown homeless problem is embarassing.  SouthPark even made an episode dedicated to San Diego.  Guess what the topic was?   Drunk, masturbating homeless people.  You think im kidding?  Google it.  

    When I lived here I remember thinking nothing of all the drunk insane homless people.  Now that I've lived in another city downtown for 3 years, the problem here is out of control, and nobody here even realizes it.  Its like residents have "gotten used" to it or something.   San Diego has a reputation across the country because of this problem.  Nobody wants to stay downtown.   For f's sake, the # of homeless people outside right now (at the 4 star hilton) outnumbers the actual people.  I can only imagine how hotel guests feel.  San Diego - do something about your homeless problem.  At the very least, move these drunk insane swollen vomiting individuals out of residential and hotel areas.  

    thehomelessguy subscriber

    Of course they cannot pin point a particular effort in why the numbers have fluctuated.   The homeless population fluctuations on its own, regardless of outside efforts to control or contain it.  The number of variables that affect the homeless population is greater than most people realize.   Of coarse I've been saying this for years, but most of the homelessness industry doesn't listen to actual homeless people.   Read my blog at

    Monica Gregory
    Monica Gregory

    @thehomelessguy  I appreciate how you tell it like it really is. Reality is often a harder lesson to learn but somehow some people put everything else above humanitarian needs. Keep up the great posts and blogging! I shall become your follower, groupie on your BlogSpot! Thanks Keith for your insights and research.~Monica

    Pat Seaborg
    Pat Seaborg subscribermember

    You did a nice job describing the homeless count info, but I hope you won't mind my critique of the last sentence of your article. 

    Your chart (and the data) suggest that East Village and Core/Columbia (not Gaslamp) are the areas of highest concentration of homeless.  And as far as where to count homeless people, the Regional Task Force spends months figuring out the logistics of how to deploy volunteers for the count.  So there is no need to start in one area then move to the next as your article suggests.

    I am proud to volunteer for this effort each year, and would encourage any of you who have thought of participating to put "January 23, 2015" on your calendar for next year's count.  The Regional Task Force website can tell you more.

    Allen Hemphill
    Allen Hemphill subscribermember

    And I argue that homelessness should be addressed by churches.

    There are 750 Christian churches that are warm, dry, and vacant 95% of each week. Jesus ORDERED his followers to serve the poor, and that means a congregation filled with Doctors, Dentists, Nurses, Psychiatrists and Psychologists, etc. And more importantly...Employers!

    Homelessness is a problem. It is a solvable problem -- never completely because it is a lifestyle for a few but it is best addressed through the help available within the congregations where massive amounts of help exist, and where followers have been directed to help.

    It appears the new Pope may be interested in moving his massive organization in this direction.

    La Playa Heritage
    La Playa Heritage subscribermember

    @Allen Hemphill  The City of San Diego is under the mistaken belief that Churches would need a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) in order to house the Homeless.  Previously the City's Code Compliance came down on San Diego churches and stopped the charitable practice, due to lack of expensive  Conditional Use Permits (CUP).

    Good News.  On June 25, 2013, the City Council approved Item S-504 Declaration of a Homeless Emergency Shelter Crisis that gets rid of the CEQA and CUP requirements.

    Although the Homeless Shelter Crisis exists, the City has not given churches and Code Compliance direction on the new rules which would allow churches to help citizens, and house the homeless on their property. 

    The City Attorney has also ruled that Successor Agency (SA) Property Tax Increment (TI) cannot be used for Homeless and associated services.  However the 1992 Agreement for Cooperation with the County and Redevelopment Agency (RDA)  allows any amount of RDA TI Tax Sharing Payments for facilities and social services for the poor.  In addition, the 1993 CCDC Social Issues Strategy Report documents that RDA TI can be used to house the homeless in San Diego.

    Allen Hemphill
    Allen Hemphill subscribermember

    Government does not like competition -- it marginally reduces their power and their employment numbers.

    thehomelessguy subscriber

    @Allen Hemphill  In a way, this is true, churches are an untapped resource, but there are a lot of untapped resources in the city.   Still, to truly end homelessness, we have to get beyond the band-aid approach, and move towards programs that have been proven to end homelessness, such as "Housing First".    You can read more about it at

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    Nice informative data Lisa. 

    There's 3,177,000 people living in San Diego County. 8,500 are homeless according to this survey which represents less than 0.3%. When I search on VOSD I see more than 900 articles talking about homelessness. I also see "HOMELESSNESS" as one of 4 "Hot now" topics on the header of every page of VOSD. 

    It seems like VOSD is hyper focused on homeless much more than is warranted from a statistical standpoint. I suppose "homeless" is an emotional topic which motivates liberals since the 1980s when Mitch Snyder publicized the "millions" of people that were homeless. He later admitted to making the number up yet anyone who questioned it was criticized. Liberals called it "lying for justice". 

    Homelessness is click bait for progressives which is why VOSD has a reporter on this beat and prominence on its main page even though it's really an immaterial part of our society. The myth of the epidemic of homeless is alive and well and continuing on since its advent in the 80s. The press continues to push it writing incessantly about it and always in the most sympathetic terms. Homeless are never, ever lazy or bums. Even the very term "homeless" is manufactured to illicit sympathy  as if they're inflicted by a disease never of their own choosing. Why not call them moneyless? Workless? It makes just as much sense. The term homeless sidesteps the real issues of course. I hope people realize how the power of language around this population continues the myth and avoids any push for self-responsibility. 

    And here's one more thing to think about next time you're reading the news: 

    "Crimes committed by bums are covered up by the media, by verbally transforming "the homeless" into "transients" or "drifters" whenever they commit crimes. Thus "the homeless" are the only group you never hear of committing any crimes." -- Thomas Sowell

    Randy Dotinga
    Randy Dotinga memberauthor

    @Michael Robertson  No, it doesn't make sense to call them "moneyless" or "workless." Homeless people can have jobs and can even have money. 

    As for the homeless vs. transient vs. drifter (is this 1953?), show me evidence that the media avoids the word "homeless" when the homeless commit crimes. Newspaper databases would be a good place to start.  

    Randy Dotinga
    Randy Dotinga memberauthor

    @Michael Robertson  Many VOSD readers live and work in neighborhoods like downtown, North Park, Hillcrest and the beach communities where there are plenty of transients. 

    They make us nervous, they make us sad, they make us frustrated. They contribute to filth and disease. And they occasionally become violent and hurt people. 

    They may not be a significant part of your life. But they're part of mine. 

    Skubic subscribermember

    @Randy Dotinga @Michael Robertson  Agree with Randy. 316/10,000 in East Village is about 10x higher than the county average. From a statistical standpoint, that kind of outlier might be worth investigating.