Kings, Tulare County homeless count sees significant increase
The annual snapshot of homelessness across Kings and Tulare counties shows a notable jump in total and unsheltered homeless individuals
TULARE COUNTY – The homeless population in Kings and Tulare counties increased by 16% between 2022 and 2023, according to the most recent Point in Time (PIT) count prepared by the Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance.
The annual report released July 7 showed a major uptick in the total number of people experiencing homelessness and those counted as unsheltered homeless in the area. Despite a reported decrease in the homeless population between 2020 and 2022 — there was no count in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the numbers are now the highest they’ve been in the last 10 years.
“The increase is pretty dramatic,” Laura Fisher, Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance (KTHA) executive director of operations, said. “It’s a large jump in the number of people experiencing homelessness and that’s definitely shocking and alarming.”
Across both counties, there was an increase of 253 homeless individuals between this year and last. In Tulare County, the 2023 PIT count recorded 1,053 homeless individuals, up from 922 in 2022.
PIT counts are annual surveys of an area’s homeless population conducted on a single night in January. They are intended to capture a “snapshot” of homelessness in an area by locating all homeless individuals at one time and surveying them to gather additional data.
The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires Continuums of Care, which are homeless assistance programs, to conduct PIT counts in order to receive federal grant funding. KTHA is a standalone nonprofit that also functions as the bi-county Continuum of Care, so it is required to complete the PIT count at least every other year.
In addition to the total number of people experiencing homelessness, the report includes demographic breakdowns of age, gender, race, ethnicity and other metrics important for grant funding. This includes metrics like people with disabilities, veterans and those who are considered chronically homeless.
Other than the general increase in the homeless population count, Fisher said the number of people who are unsheltered has increased a lot between 2022 and 2023.
“To me, that’s people who are living on the streets,” Fisher said. “Seeing that number increase is always a little shocking and a little upsetting.”
Across Tulare County, 779 people slept in an unsheltered location, 165 people slept in an emergency shelter and 109 slept in transitional housing. Specifically recorded across larger Tulare County cities, there were 294 unsheltered individuals in Visalia, 227 in Tulare and 227 in Porterville, with the remainder being counted in smaller towns and unincorporated communities.
In 2022, 632 people were recorded as experiencing unsheltered homelessness, broken down to 285 in Visalia, 148 in Tulare and 182 in Porterville. In 2020, there were 704 unsheltered individuals recorded across Tulare County.
Individuals are unsheltered if they are living anywhere that is a “place not meant for human habitation,” Fisher said. This includes tents, under bridges and in cars but also extends to garages and sheds that do not have access to things like kitchens or plumbing.
“If it’s not built for someone to stay in, to live in, then they are also considered homeless,” Fisher said.
The report prepared by KTHA attributed this overall increase in homelessness in part to a higher number of PIT count volunteers, the end of pandemic-era assistance programs, cost of living increases and a lack of affordable housing, which Fisher said she believes is the main cause.
“We have seen rents on the rise in our region, in the state of California as a whole, and people are getting priced out of their housing,” Fisher said. “It’s becoming increasingly more challenging for people to be able to work a single job, (have) a single income, and be able to afford rent.”
Fisher said that even as more housing is being built, the community needs rental subsidies to match it.
“We need vouchers, we need rental assistance programs in our region and we need affordable housing,” Fisher said. “Those two things go hand in hand and we can’t really have one without the other.”
Alongside those services, KTHA is looking for landlords who are willing to rent to people experiencing homelessness. Fisher said they have programs to incentivize and protect landlords who would rent to recently unhoused individuals, but they need more community engagement in that program.
“You end homelessness with homes,” Fisher said. “When it comes down to it, people need roofs over their heads and that’s the most important thing. We can provide those wraparound services … but what it comes down to is we need safe and appropriate housing for people who are experiencing homelessness.”
The full 2023 PIT report is available on the KTHA website at kthomelessalliance.org.