Homelessness jumps 19% in Sacramento County — or, by some calculations, 52%

Carl Wallace, who says he is homeless and lives on the streets, waves to people passing by in Sacramento on Wednesday. The latest point-in-time count shows the number of people who are homeless in Sacramento County increased by 19% over the last two years.
(Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

Following a trend across California, homelessness in Sacramento County increased 19% over two years, officials reported Wednesday.

Sacramento Steps Forward, the county’s homeless services agency, said the January count found 5,570 people living in shelters and on the street.

That was up 52% from the previous count, conducted in 2017. But officials said they adjusted the earlier number upward to account for improvements in the survey methodology this year. The count was more accurate because the agency said it tripled the number of volunteers, allowing more locations to be surveyed.


Among the findings in the report, 70% of the county’s homeless people were sleeping “outdoors or in vehicles, abandoned buildings or other location not suitable for human habitation.”

Families made up 20% of those counted — a total of 372 with 688 children. Half of them were living on the street. Twelve percent were veterans, 40% were 45 years old or older and most — 93% percent — said they were from Sacramento County.

Lisa Bates, chief executive officer of Sacramento Steps Forward, said this year’s count emphasized accuracy over the ability to track trends.

The double-digit increase was similar to numbers released earlier by other cities and counties, including Los Angeles.

San Francisco saw a 17% jump in the number of homeless residents over the last two years, according to preliminary results of the city’s point-in-time count.

Orange County also changed the way it conducted its count and recorded a 43% increase from its last count in 2017. Ventura, San Bernardino and Kern counties all reported increases of 20% or more.


Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he was encouraged by one finding, though: That fewer chronically homeless people were living on the streets.

The report said the number of chronically homeless people — those who have been homeless for longer than a year or had several episodes of homelessness and also have a physical or mental impairment or substance abuse — decreased slightly. But the percentage identified as “unsheltered” had decreased by a more robust 7%.

“I’m not celebrating because 19% is 19%, but I’m downright going to emphasize this 7% decrease in chronic homeless,” Steinberg said.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Steinberg characterized the trend as “the beginning of our strategy to invest resources … to get resources to people who have been out on the street for a long time.”

Steinberg said the city has committed nearly $100 million to fight homelessness, and that combined city and county programs had helped house 3,600 homeless people over the past year.

The mayor also has launched a program to open hundreds of new shelter beds.

As in other localities, only a small percentage of Sacramento’s homeless population was counted in shelters. But the 30% sheltered rate in Sacramento was higher than in Los Angeles, where it was 25%.


Echoing officials in Los Angeles, Steinberg attributed the overall increase to the cost of housing.

“It’s because of the affordability crisis,” he said. “It’s the fact that too many people that are housed are living on the edge. Too many people who were housed and fragile are now homeless and fragile.”