Orange County Count Results Show Decrease In Number Of Unhoused People
The overall number of people experiencing homelessness in Orange County has fallen by nearly 17% since 2019, according to results released Wednesday from a 2022 point-in-time count.
Out of the 5,718 people experiencing homelessness across Orange County during the 2022 point-in-time count, over half were unsheltered. According to the last count in 2019, before the pandemic, there were 6,860 unhoused people in the county, with nearly 4,000 of them unsheltered and about 2,900 in an emergency or transitional shelter.
“The takeaway today is good news but we still have some work to do,” Orange County Supervisor Donald Wagner told a press conference in Santa Ana. “It is the result of an enormous amount of work, but the reality is we have community partners, substantial buy-in and private partners that have been working extremely hard over the last several years to get us to where we are today.”
The “point-in-time” count is required every two years by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for grants and funding, but was postponed in 2021 due to the pandemic. The count was going to resume in January, but another wave of COVID-19 caused the count to be delayed until February.
The results signal what could happen when the Los Angeles Continuum of Care releases the results of its point-in-time count. Results were supposed to come later this month or early June, but updated numbers will now be released sometime this summer, according to a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
Breaking It Down
There were 280 veterans and 235 youth aged 18-24 in Orange County who were counted experiencing homelessness in February. There were also 718 people experiencing homelessness over the age of 62, a 6% increase from 2019. Adults over the age of 50 are the fastest growing unhoused population.
Of those unsheltered, over 70% were male, while there were roughly the same number of men and women in shelters or transitional housing. Those who are transgender, non-binary or questioning made up less than 1% of the total sheltered and unsheltered population.
Referring to the aging unhoused population and those experiencing chronic homelessness, county Office of Care Coordination Director Doug Becht said, "[o]ur system needs to continue to evolve to better address those needs."
Becht said there will likely be a more detailed breakdown of the data when the full report is released in August.
How Did the Decrease Happen?
At the press conference, officials credited homeless service providers and other agencies, along with an increase in shelter beds and wrap-around services, for the decrease.
According to the Orange County Register, nearly 1,500 beds in emergency shelters and more than 400 units of permanent supportive housing opened after the 2019 homeless count. Some cities also launched or increased street outreach to help bring unhoused people indoors.
Father Dennis Kriz, a homeless advocate at Fullerton’s St. Philip Benizi Church, said people should be concerned about the decrease may be partly the result of unhoused people dying. Kriz has been posting the number of people who died “without a fixed abode” in Orange County since the beginning of 2019.
Noting that the 2022 count found the number of people experiencing homelessness decreased by 1,142 people since 2019, Kriz said 947 unhoused people have died during that time period.
“The death rate among the homeless has doubled here in Orange County since the time of COVID,” Kriz said in a phone interview, citing numbers from the Orange County coroner. “There are certainly things they’ve done better, but I would say a significant amount of the decrease is simply the deaths.”
Becht, in response to a similar concern raised at the press conference, said he’s not sure a fair comparison can be made with a point-in-time count that happened over three days in February.
Kriz also said he would like to know how many people experiencing homelessness were eventually moved into permanent housing.