EL CENTRO — Imperial County’s homeless population appears to have more than doubled compared to the previous year, according to the 2017 report by the Imperial Valley Continuum of Care Council (IVCCC) on homelessness. However, the apparent rise in numbers are due to more efficient methods of counting, officials said.
The results were reported by a panel of four officials during a press conference attended by media representatives, businessmen, volunteers, city and government officials Thursday morning at Catholic Charities in El Centro.
Nancy Sasaki, vice-chair of IVCCC and executive director of Alliance Healthcare Foundation, gave the initial report. She was followed by Les Smith, chair of IVCCC and president of El Centro Chamber of Commerce; Peggy Price, director of Imperial County Department of Social Services; and Deborah D. Owen, assistant district attorney of Imperial County.
Sasaki began with a brief survey history of homeless people, the training of volunteers, areas surveyed, future surveys and highlights of the findings.
“We counted 1,071 homeless people who are either sheltered or unsheltered,” said Sasaki. “And it is important to note that while this reflects a dramatic increase in homelessness over previous counts, that increase is actually the number of people that are counted. The number did not triple. Rather, our efficiency did.”
Through the more thorough effort of this year’s point-in-time count, Sasaki said, the county is getting a more accurate picture of homelessness, its root causes, and effective solutions in this region. Furthermore, 104 of the homeless people counted are veterans; and 71 additional veterans are in Slab City. These veterans represent 11 percent of the overall homeless population.
A 39-page booklet “Imperial County: 2017 Point-in-Time Count and Survey” states that the homeless count for Year 2017 was 1,071 individuals, compared to 380 individuals in Year 2016.
According to the report, this year’s homeless count was conducted on January 27 from 8:00 p.m. until midnight; and January 28, at the Slab City near Niland during the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
According to Smith, this data is a useful tool in different ways. “First, to procure more funds from HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development); and second, to better educate local and regional officials as to the numbers, the needs and begin to explore other funding sources or resources to fund homeless prevention other than just strictly HUD,” Smith said.
In reference to the increase in the homeless population, Smith said, the increase to 200 volunteers in 2017 from 25 volunteers in 2016 attributed to efficiency. “We did a much more efficient, incredible job counting the homeless than what they’ve been able to do in the past, just by having a more collaborative effort from the community volunteers to help count them.”
The homeless count was a joint effort of the Imperial Valley Homeless Task Force, the City of El Centro, the Imperial County District Attorney’s Office, and the Brawley Police Department, plus over 170 volunteers.
“I’m sure we can all agree that eliminating homelessness in our community enhances the quality of life for everyone,” said Assistant District Attorney Owen. “At the local level, the Point-In-Time Count allows us to identify those areas and identify many of the reasons for the problem. So that we can come up with solutions to address the issue. So, when we look at the data from this Point-In-Time Count, we can see that there are three major reasons for people being homeless in our community.”
She said unemployment (32.6 percent) is the main reason. It is no surprise to many familiar with Imperial County that the county routinely ranked as leading the nation in unemployment, Owen said. Next was disability (13.2 percent) and substance abuse (11.6 percent).
Peggy Price, director of Imperial County Department of Social Services, concurred with what Owen had said, and supported the establishment of a Coordinated Entry System (CES).
According to the report, a CES will be required by Year 2018. It will allow assessment of an individual or a family and assign them to services that would best serve them. It increases efficiency by reducing duplication of services, thus, reducing time, effort, and saving money. “This particular system will bring the services in a coordinated and collaborative effort to the person,” said Price.
“This issue is complex, but we know that working together we can end homelessness in Imperial Valley,” Owen said.