Marin homeless counts down in biennial survey

05/22/2019

Once every two years, before the sun rises, a team of volunteers make the rounds, attempting to account for all the people asleep without a roof above them—numbers required by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides the bulk of Marin’s operating budget to address homelessness. The county released preliminary 2019 results last week, celebrating decreases in numbers across the board and linking them to improved county services. In January, Marin County’s Department of Health and Human Services employed people who have experienced homelessness firsthand to lead the volunteer groups to complete the count, which includes a follow-up survey; the groups circulate the same census tracks year-to-year, collaborating with the Sheriff’s Office to look for people sleeping in cars and going off-road to comb beaches and parks. (Marin abides by the federal requirements, but some neighboring cities, such as San Francisco, take their own additional counts that factor in other locations, including jails and hospitals.) The total federal count of people experiencing homelessness in Marin is 1,034, a number that is 7 percent lower than the 2017 count. The number of people experiencing chronic homelessness—defined as spending a year or more on the street—dropped by 41 percent during that time, to 257. Countywide, homelessness for families is down 28 percent, to 54, since 2017, while youth homelessness dropped 10 percent, to 110. The number of mentally ill homeless dropped by 40 percent, to 275. Carrie Sager, the senior program coordinator with Health and Human Services, said those surveyed provided information about race and ethnicity, veteran status, any experience with domestic violence, and how long they have been in the county. The survey also asked people to describe what services they had found helpful, and what gaps remain. By examining the final quantitative and qualitative data, which is expected to be published in a final report this summer, Ms. Sager said, the county will better determine whether they can attribute the lower numbers of homeless this year to the success of Marin’s programs. (Preliminary results from the same federal count in San Francisco and Alameda Counties showed increases in homelessness.) Money has streamed into Marin this year to address homelessness: in April, the county accepted $4.8 million from the Homeless Emergency Assistance Program, or HEAP, a state program established in 2018. The grant—which is the largest of several awarded this year, which together more than double the typical annual budget—will mostly go to Homeward Bound of Marin to add beds to its San Rafael shelter, though a small portion will go to the St. Vincent de Paul Society for a program to assist newly homeless people.