San Diego homeless population climbs to fourth highest in the U.S.

The homeless population in San Diego city and county is now the fourth largest in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Nearly 48% of those without housing are sleeping on the streets.

San Diego's homeless population rose to 8,742 this year from 8,506 in 2014, a 2.8% increase that bumped it into the top four for the first time behind the metropolitan areas of Seattle, Los Angeles and New York City.

San Diego was the 12th-ranked metro area in 2007, and has steadily made its way up to the No. 4 spot, according to the federal data.

San Diego's homeless population has fallen from a peak in 2010 of 10,013, but other areas have made more progress in addressing the problem, resulting in the higher ranking for San Diego.

The data come from HUD's annual homeless assessment report to Congress, which is primarily based on street counts conducted in late January each year.

Dolores Diaz, executive director of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, which conducts the January count each year, said several factors influence San Diego's homeless population.

"There's no one solution to a problem that's caused by a number of factors," said Richard Gentry, president and chief executive of the San Diego Housing Commission. "Some just need shelter. Others need a variety of services."

The commission has launched several assistance programs to reduce homelessness. Some focus on providing treatment for factors that contribute to homelessness, such as drug abuse and mental illness.

Gentry said other programs focus solely on providing affordable housing to those suffering from economic displacement. The commission recently awarded 135 federal rental housing vouchers to low-income tenants. That's just a portion of the 1,500 federal vouchers the commission has committed to provide rental assistance to homeless individuals and families over the next three years.

Melinda Hohman, director of the school of social work at San Diego State University, said California's high cost of living is a major contributor to homelessness.

The percentage of the homeless population locally who lack shelter increased this year to 48%, from 47% last year. But it's down from 58% in 2011.

The data show that California accounted for 21% of the nation's homeless population in 2015. Los Angeles city and county jumped to No. 1 for having the most chronically homeless people in the country, tallied at 12,356.

The government defines chronically homeless as someone who is disabled and has gone without housing for a year, or several times over three years. L.A.'s total is nearly four times larger than New York City's chronically homeless population, which was the second-largest in the country with 3,275 people.

San Diego's chronic homeless population jumped to 1,689 this year from 1,245 in 2014, the data show, and has increased more than 73% since 2007. Diaz said data for chronic homelessness are not perfect, since it's determined through self-reported surveys conducted one night of the year.

The questions designed to determine chronic homelessness have changed over the years as well, she said, which could help explain such a large increase, Diaz said.

Efforts to reduce and eventually prevent homelessness altogether are underway, she said. Homeless individuals with severe mental health issues will be able to receive permanent housing through funding approved by the county Board of Supervisors in September.

lauryn.schroeder@sduniontribune.com

Lauryn Schroeder is a reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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A version of this article appeared in print on November 29, 2015, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "More living on the streets in S.D. - The area's population without housing climbs to the fourth- largest in the U.S." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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