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In Sacramento County, overall homelessness Increased

In Sacramento County, overall homelessness, including people who are sheltered and unsheltered, increased 67% since 2019 to about 9,278 individuals in 2022. In San Francisco, those numbers dropped 3.5%, to 7,754. Sacramento County’s population — 1.6 million — is larger than San Francisco’s. Sacramento County isn’t the only Northern California county that leapfrogged past San Francisco in terms of its homeless population. Alameda County, which saw a 22% jump in its homeless population to 9,747 out of 1.7 million people, was also ahead of San Francisco. But Sacramento was long seen as a more affordable place than the Bay Area and without the same acute level of homelessness. Sacramento County officials have tried to meet the need by increasing shelter capacity, placing more people in permanent supportive housing and setting aside more money to tackle homelessness, but the efforts haven’t been able to keep up with the pace of people becoming homeless. The recently released numbers from the Point in Time count, a federally mandated tally on two nights in February, show the reach of an affordable housing crisis that has extended beyond California’s most expensive cities. Experts and the head of Sacramento’s homeless coordinating organization attributed the increase to a rise in rents that stretched an already short affordable housing supply. By comparison, officials said San Francisco, grappling with the issue for longer, was successful in bringing down its numbers in part because it has unique dedicated local funding to get new shelter and housing. “Sacramento is experiencing this crazy influx of housing costs going up and of very limited supply of deeply affordable housing,” said Tomiquia Moss, CEO of regional homelessness nonprofit All Home. “Poverty has been moving east. ... Residents of Sacramento, the city and the county, have found it harder and harder to stay housed in those communities.” Most people surveyed in Sacramento County’s count, first reported by the Sacramento Bee, said they became homeless prior to the pandemic. Experts say housing costs are the major driver of homelessness. In Sacramento County, median rent for a one-bedroom rose 30% — from $1,005 in January 2019 to $1,302 in January 2022 — according to real estate listings website Apartment List. The opposite occurred in San Francisco, where median one-bedroom rents dropped 16%, from $2,642 to $2,225, during the same time period. Lisa Bates, CEO of Sacramento Steps Forward, the lead organization coordinating homeless services between nonprofits, the city and county of Sacramento, said the more affordable area appealed to remote workers from the Bay Area during the pandemic, which increased housing costs and crunched an already short affordable housing supply. Sacramento County needs 78,000 more affordable units to meet the needs of low-income households, the report said. In Sacramento County, the number of individuals reporting a disability and/or being chronically homeless more than doubled since 2019. The rates of families and veterans who are homeless dropped. The crisis has worsened for many despite investments to tackle it. Over the past three years, Sacramento County helped more than 9,000 people get into permanent housing and increased shelter capacity by 57%, Bates’ group reported. That kept the percentage of people living unsheltered, in tents or cars, around 70% of the homeless population, even though overall numbers grew. San Francisco made more progress. Though more than half of all homeless people in the city were unsheltered, that number was about 15% lower than in 2019. City officials attributed the drop to a “significant increase in housing and shelter resources,” including a 24% rise in available shelter beds. During the pandemic, San Francisco quickly set up outdoor shelters for tents and vehicles and moved about 3,800 people into shelter-in-place hotel rooms. Drought Map Track water shortages and restrictions across Bay Area Check the water shortage status of your area, plus see reservoir levels and a list of restrictions for the Bay Area’s largest water districts. Moss said one reason for San Francisco’s success is a steady stream of homelessness funding from voter-approved tax measure Prop. C. The Chronicle recently found the city had doled out about $155 million of the funds. Most counties don’t have that dedicated local funding, and it put the city “ahead in terms of putting resources to the solutions that we know work,” she said. Prop. C and federal relief funding helped beef up the homelessness department’s budget to $1.1 billion in the fiscal year that ended June 30. San Francisco already used some Prop. C money to contribute to a 1,000-bed shelter expansion and buy two hotels for permanent supportive housing. Moss also said San Francisco’s law that provides tenants facing eviction with a right to counsel helped prevent people from becoming homeless. She cited a report from the Eviction Defense Collaborative that found 59% of people represented were able to stay in their homes last year. Sacramento County has used some of the same interventions, but with fewer resources. The county’s budget for homelessness was $181 million this past fiscal year, which included a $50 million influx from federal relief funds. The city spends around $33 million a year on the issue, Bates said. Bates and Moss said multiple solutions are needed to address Sacramento’s crisis — emergency rental assistance to prevent people from becoming homeless, shelters to get them off the streets and permanent housing to end homelessness. Like San Francisco, Sacramento has used state and federal programs to buy hotels for permanent supportive housing, with more in the works, and shelter more than 2,000 people in hotel rooms. Sacramento took note of San Francisco’s swift work to set up alternate outdoor shelters, Bates said, but is further behind in the process. The city of Sacramento worked for six months on a comprehensive plan about where to put shelter or housing sites and is starting this week to open some, and the county is doing the same. The county recently passed a local homeless action plan and stepped up outreach to landlords to encourage them to rent to people with housing vouchers. The homeless coordinating agency is investing more than $12 million into creating a better system to connect people to services. “We need more resources coming,” Bates said, “but we need to be sure we’re organizing and deploying them in the most effective manner.” Mallory Moench (she/her) is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter:@mallorymoench

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