Yuba-Sutter homeless count rises from year ago
A highly preliminary count of the homeless in Yuba-Sutter shows an increase from a year ago, but possible reasons as to why are harder to find.
The annual count, which ended Thursday, shows 713 people living outdoors, up from 574 in 2012. The numbers were as high as 820 two years ago, but those compiling the figures began using a different method last year.
If the increase is actual, officials and volunteers at Hands of Hope in Yuba City can vouch for it. Monique Figlietti, the service center manager for the not-for-profit group, said as many as 60 to 70 people use her group's services daily, up from about 45 a day a year ago.
"What we get a lot of is mental illness," she said. "Sometimes it's overwhelming for them, and they have no place to go."
Others fall into what she called a downward cycle: Losing jobs, then getting behind on utilities and rent before being evicted, then being unable to find another place to live because of damaged credit, even if they're working again.
And in other cases, the people don't have the life skills to keep a job or a home, Figlietti said, though her group tries to help with mentoring and skills classes.
"We do have successes," she said. "But it takes such strong, strong people."
However, another group involved in collecting the numbers, Twin Cities Rescue Mission, believes increasing numbers are a good sign.
"I don't think it's any dramatic increase," said Joe Grinnell, the mission's executive director. "If anything, we've seen an increase in people going into programs."
Grinnell said his group is designed for homeless men dealing with drug and alcohol addictions, and is often the last place such men visit before deciding to get treatment.
Twin Cities may be seeing more people, he said, because it's continually working on outreach through ads and newsletters. He did not provide exact numbers.
John Floe, prevention services coordinator at Sutter-Yuba Mental Health, said other factors, including the persistently tough economy and people recently released from incarceration, also play a role in swelling homeless numbers.
Because of a 2006 state proposition dedicating money for mental health services, Floe said, he has at least not seen budget cuts in recent years that would have made helping the homeless population harder.
"Our need is greater, too," he said.
Who are the homeless?
Figuring out who the homeless are, and how many there are, is a hard target to hit, according to those who compile the annual count.
The survey, which consists of two parts, probably misses many people who do not have homes for several reasons.
One, said John Floe, of Sutter-Yuba Mental Health, is it doesn't usually count people defined as "precariously homeless" who temporarily live on a friend's couch or in a garage, but don't have a place of their own.
There also many who use services but don't report who they are or other detail, or some who don't use services at all, he said. In the past, agency representatives have said they believe the count captures 50 to 75 percent of the actual population. The annual survey has two parts: A bed count in winter at area homeless shelters, then a 10-day period that ended Thursday where service providers such as Hands of Hope, Twin Cities Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army and others survey their clients.
In addition to names, volunteers ask for ages, how long the person's been homeless, whether they have children, military service and other details. The lists are cross-checked across agencies to eliminate redundancies, then both data sets are submitted to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Even if the information isn't complete, it's important for HUD to have, local officials said.
Monique Figlietti, of Hands of Hope in Yuba City, said the data are what helps determine what sort of funding the department will disburse to agencies like hers.
CONTACT Ben van der Meer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4786. Find him on Facebook at /ADbvandermeer or on Twitter at @ADbvandermeer.