Homelessness increases across the board, virus’ role is uncertain

Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance director guesses 40% of those new to her services were affected by COVID-19 pandemic

TULARE COUNTY – Homelessness continues to rise if you ask the Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance. According to an annual snapshot published in late August, but conducted in January, there has not been a decrease since 2015. And so far, the trends only continue to rise.

Point in time in Tulare County

The increases in homelessness in unincorporated Tulare County are staggering with the number of homeless rising by over 100 in two of the last four years. Between 2017 and 2018 the number of homeless in unincorporated Tulare County rose from 666 to 790. Between 2019 and 2020 the number of homeless rose from 814 to 992. As the survey notes that is a 22% increase over 2019, but a 60% increase since 2011. Executive director of the alliance, Machael Smith said that 22% is significant.

“I think it’s a lot when you look at the trend of where we’re going,” Smith said. “It’s a long time for those numbers to go up, and up, and up.”

In 2011 the survey found 620 homeless residents. In 2012 the number decreased to 568, and then decreased again the following year to 551. Homeless started rising again in 2014 to 590, still below the initial 620 from 2011, but not by much. In 2015 the number of homeless surpassed the 2011 number to 636 and dipped once more in 2016 to 631 before entering an ever upward trend.

In this year’s point in time survey, 420 of those interviewed are considered chronically homeless.

Since the coronavirus entered the United States the economy has suffered. Smith guesses that approximately 40% of the new people coming to the alliance for services were affected by the downturn. But she notes that is not a hard number.

As the Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance has been working on accomplishing major projects like the 99 Palms permanent housing project in Tulare, and the Sequoia Lodge project currently in escrow, they have not sorted out who is specifically seeking services as a result of COVID-19. Smith said it is likely that people afflicted by the economic downturn didn’t need services for very long.

She said that services have been publicized much more broadly and it is possible someone, or a family, was homeless for two or three months before getting back on their feet.

According to the survey whether a person has been homeless for a year or more is 2 to 1. The alliance discovered that 32% of the county’s homeless were without a home for less than a year, and 68% of the county’s homeless have been without a home for a year or more.

The survey found that 40% of the homeless interviewed were struggling with mental illness; 34% were struggling with a physical disability; 30% are dealing with substance abuse; and 13% are dealing with some sort of developmental condition.

In terms of homeless with or without children, 88% of the homeless interviewed were without children. Homeless with children made up 12%.

By race, the vast majority of unincorporated Tulare County’s homeless are white. Only native Americans and African Americans come close with 6% respectively. Broken down by gender, 60% of homeless in the county are male, and 40% are female.

Homeless in the county vary widely by age. Those under 18 years old make up 7% of the county’s homeless; 18-24 make up 6%; 25-34 make up 16%; 35-44 make up 25%; 45-54 make up 24%; 55-64 make up 18%; and those 65 year and older make up 4%.

Most homeless by city

Visalia’s homeless increase has been eye-popping from 2016 to now, and even 2019 to now. When the Point in Time survey was published in August Visalia’s homeless increased by 14%, increasing their number of homeless residents from 475 to 540. For those, 167 are chronically homeless. Some have suspected that Visalia’s homeless could actually be as high as 1,600 – roughly 1% of the city’s population.

Only 30% of their homeless have been without a home for less than a year, while 70% have been homeless for a year or more. According to the survey’s disabling conditions 47% are struggling with mental illness; 44% are contending with a physical disability; 36% are suffering from substance abuse; and 17% are hindered by a sort of developmental condition.

Like unincorporated Tulare County and Visalia the vast majority of the city’s homeless, 68%, are considered white. Unlike the county and Visalia, African Americans make up 12% of the city’s homeless. Native American’s make up 6% of the total homeless population.

Broken down by gender, 59% of homeless in Tulare are male, while 41% are female. In terms of age, those under the age of 18 make up only 2% of the city’s homeless population; those 18-24 years old make up 4%; those 25-34 make up 15%; those 35-44 and 45-54 make up 27% respectively; those 55-64 make up 21%; and those 65 years old or older make up 4%.

Porterville has seen an equally dramatic increase over the decade, and over the last three years. Between 2011 and 2020 the city has seen their homeless population grow from 82 to 213 accounting for a 160% increase.

According to the Point in Time survey the city’s homeless grew by 21% going from 176 to 213. The city previously peaked in homeless with 177 in 2016 before reducing their homeless to 115 by 2018. But from 2018 to 2020 Porterville’s has seen their homeless population increase by 98.

As of August, 35% of Porterville’s homeless had been without a home for less than a year, while 65% have been homeless for a year or more.

Somewhat unique from other cities and the county, 41% of Porterville’s homeless are afflicted with a physical disability; 39% are suffering from mental illness; 24% are dealing with substance abuse; and 17% have a developmental condition.

Broken down by race, 89% of Porterville’s homeless are considered white. The next largest category are native Americans with 7%. In terms of gender, males make up 53% of the city’s homeless to 47% female.

By age, those under 18 years old make up 6% of the city’s homeless; those 18-24 years old make up 8%; those 25-34 make up 15%; those 35-44 make up 20%; those 45-54 make up 25%; those 55-64 make up 21%; and those 65 years old or older make up 4%.

Even more staggering is the percentage increase since 2011. The survey notes that Visalia’s homeless have risen 148% – going from 218 homeless in 2011 to the 540 as of this summer. The amount of time being homeless matches the overall county numbers—32% were homeless for 12 months or less, and 68% have been homeless for a year or more.

Disabling conditions are only slightly off from the county’s statistics. According to the survey 38% of the city’s homeless are afflicted with mental illness; 30% suffer from substance abuse; 27% are dealing with some sort of physical disability; and 10% are dealing with a developmental condition.

Broken down by race 83% of Visalia’s homeless are considered white. The next closest category by race is African Americans who make up 7% of the city’s homeless. Next closet are native Americans who make up 6%.

In terms of gender, 62% of Visalia’s homeless are male, and 38% are female.

In terms of age group, those under 18 years old make up 9% of Visalia’s homeless; 18-24 years old make up 6%; 25-34 year-olds make up 18%; 35-44 year-olds make up the largest age group of the city’s homeless at 27%; the next highest age group is 45-54 year-olds at 20%; 55-64 year-olds make up 16%; and 65 years or older make up 4%.

While no other city touches the whole numbers of homeless that Visalia has, other cities are seeing high percentages of growth. Tulare saw a 39% increase in their homeless from 2019 to 2020, going from 146 homeless counted in the 2019 Point in Time survey to 203. Their percent increase since 2011 rose 497% going from 34 homeless to 203 over the decade.

Getting the numbers

In an interview with The Sun-Gazette Machael Smith was sure to note that the Point in Time survey is just a snapshot in the year. Homeless sometimes move to a different city for services or get themselves out of homelessness all together.

“The whole thing is that it’s a snapshot in time,” Smith said.

She said the alliance collects data from several different sources including the information collected for their own services. In all they gather statistics from the Homeless Management Information System, a web-based system that collates data by county. They also use Visalia Rescue Mission data in addition to statistics offered by other nonprofits, and government services. And they visit homeless encampments to administer surveys as well.

With 10 different data points from the Point in Time survey alone the alliance feels confident in their assessments are accurate.

“As unscientific as it is, there is a consistency and a rhythm to it,” Smith said.

Start typing and press Enter to search