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Homelessness up 7 percent in Orange County, latest count shows

A homeless encampment located around the Santa Ana Civic Center in Orange County.
Jill Replogle/KPCC
Homeless people camped at the Santa Ana Civic Center in Orange County in March, 2017. The number of people sleeping on the streets in Orange County has increased more than 50 percent since 2013, according to initial tallies from the 2017 Point-In-Time homeless count.

(This story has been corrected. See below.)

Homelessness in Orange County went up more than 7 percent in the last two years and nearly 13 percent since 2013, according to initial results released Friday from this year's Point-In-Time homeless count.

The number of people sleeping outside, as opposed to sleeping in shelters, rose 50 percent over the past four years. 

The total number of homeless individuals counted by volunteers on a single night in January was 4,792, including people sleeping in emergency and transitional shelters and those sleeping on the streets, in parks and along riverbeds.

The figures come in the midst of an unprecedented effort by county and city officials to get a grip on the problem.

In October, the county converted an empty bus depot in Santa Ana into a 400-bed emergency shelter. And on May 5, the county opened a 100-bed, full-service shelter in Anaheim designed to get people quickly into permanent housing. Another 100 beds and a health clinic will be added to the shelter over the next year. 

“We still have a lot to do,” County Supervisor Andrew Do acknowledged. He said the large number of homeless people living along the Santa Ana River was “an intractable problem.”

“That doesn’t mean we stop trying,” he said. “We will continue to explore ways to provide shelter for them that will probably lower the barrier for entry so that people feel more comfortable.” 

Supervisor Shawn Nelson recently proposed putting temporary, tent-like homeless shelters on county-owned land in Irvine, Huntington Beach and Santa Ana. County CEO Frank Kim is expected to report back to the board on the viability of the sites later this month. 

But the idea is already meeting resistance in Huntington Beach, the Daily Pilot reported, from city officials and County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel, whose district includes Huntington Beach. The city posted a note on its official Facebook page saying the site, which is a former landfill, is inappropriate to host a “tent city.”

"This site, located adjacent to Central Park, is zoned as open space and currently has environmentally sensitive coastal sage scrub over the majority of the site,” the post reads. "Additionally, there is active methane monitoring as part of the closure of the landfill.”

Scott Larson, executive director of HomeAid Orange County, which works to get homeless people into permanent housing, applauded the county’s recent efforts to deal with homelessness, including the opening of the Anaheim shelter. 

He also praised the city of Santa Ana for its efforts to address the issue by encouraging more affordable housing. 

A comprehensive report from the 2017 Point-In-Time homeless count is expected in June. 

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that homelessness in Orange County had gone up more than 50 percent since 2013. In fact, the number of people sleeping outside went up more than 50 percent, not the total number of homeless people, which includes people sleeping in shelters.