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Half of San Diego’s Homeless Are New to the Streets

Data released this week reveals thousands of people became newly homeless in San Diego last year.

San Diego saw a rush of newly homeless people last year.

About half of San Diego’s homeless population is newly homeless, according to data analyzed by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless.

The ongoing study paints a starker picture of San Diego’s homeless crisis than the annual point-in-time count, a census taken on a single morning every January.

Between last October and this September, researchers found more than 17,550 people had used homeless services – and many of them were new to the street or shelters. That’s roughly twice the number counted during this past January’s census.

And agencies who assist the homeless made nearly 10,300 new entries into a regional homeless services database meant to track those receiving help during the same period.

That number reflects folks who hadn’t accessed homeless services the previous five years, said Sue Lindsay, who leads the San Diego State University’s Institute for Public Health and was hired to help the Task Force analyze the data.

Lindsay unveiled the numbers late Thursday at the Regional Continuum of Care Council meeting, where leaders countywide gather monthly to discuss strategies to address homelessness.

“Now there are some who would say because the problem is growing we’re not doing enough so why do anything? What I would say is that we just need to do more,” said San Diego Housing Commission CEO Rick Gentry, who leads the regional council. (The group plans to merge with the Regional Task Force early next year.)

Gentry said he looked forward to further analysis of the numbers and noted one positive takeaway in the data: San Diego County agencies helped more than 6,600 homeless people move permanently off the streets last year.

The rub is that so many more became or remained homeless during that time.

Lindsay and Gentry believe the new data will allow local leaders to closely track their success and the needs of the homeless-serving community throughout the year.

The new data represents a new chapter for efforts to address homelessness in San Diego.

For years, San Diego’s homeless-serving community has largely relied on the results of the point-in-time count to shape local programs and initiatives. Regionally, it’s only had an anecdotal sense of the percentage of newly homeless clients versus those who have been using services for years.

There’s still much to sort out. Researchers have yet to do a deep dive into whether San Diego’s seen a larger boom in newly homeless people the past couple years, or to delve into the stories behind those newly homeless people.

Lindsay said they’re planning to scrutinize the data as much as they can in coming months.

Greg Anglea, executive director of nonprofit Interfaith Community Services, said the data validates a story that’s been largely anecdotal up to this point: There are many newly homeless San Diegans.

“What we see with eyeballs in downtown and in other communities is really being backed up in a major way by hard data,” Anglea said.

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