Marin County has released the full copy of its 2022 Point in Time (PIT) count, which measures the number of homeless people living in the county on a given day, which this year was Feb. 17.

Previously the county had released a preliminary report of the data in May.

According to the report, homelessness in Marin has increased 8 percent since 2019, with an 11 percent decrease in sheltered homelessness and a 17 percent increase in unsheltered homelessness.

PIT reports are compiled biennially by each county and their numbers are used to gauge the severity of the homelessness problem and to measure trends in the number of unhoused residents in a county. Marin’s PIT count was originally scheduled for January 2021 but was put on hold for a year due to COVID-19.

The numbers for 2022 show an uptick from three years ago, with 1,121 people experiencing homelessness this year versus 1,034 in 2019. Still, both numbers are lower than 2015’s 1,309.

“Unstable living conditions, poverty, housing scarcity, and many other issues often lead individuals to have multiple episodes of homelessness,” reads the survey’s overall findings. “For many, the experience of homelessness is part of a long and recurring history of housing instability.”

Gary Naja-Riese, Marin County’s director of homelessness and whole person care, said the county has a goal of ending veteran homelessness and cutting the number of people living in chronic homelessness in half by 2024.

Breaking down the numbers

The preliminary findings released in May came with the header, “Latest Homeless Count Reflects Pandemic’s Toll,” seemingly laying the blame for the rise on COVID-19. Data from the full report shows that 14 percent of respondents indicated that their primary cause of homelessness was related to the pandemic. Four percent indicated that recent wildfires were the cause of their homelessness.

Snapshots from the PIT break the numbers down even further. About 78 percent of those surveyed were residents of Marin County prior to becoming unhoused. Of the 1,121 people who were reported as experiencing homelessness in February, 26 percent of them were in shelters and 74 percent were unsheltered.

A graphic from the Marin County 2022 Point-in-Time Report gives a breakdown of which groups represent the bulk of the county’s sheltered and unsheltered homeless residents. (Graphic courtesy of Marin County)

The largest age group among homeless people were those between the ages of 25 and 59, at 50 percent. Those over 60 made up 28 percent. People aged 18-24 made up 15 percent, while 8 percent of the county’s homeless population were children ages 17 and younger.

Homelessness along gender lines skewed 59 percent male, with 39 percent female and 2 percent transgender/gender non-conforming.

Subpopulations among people experiencing homelessness fell into several categories. According to the report, 284 people were defined as “chronically” homeless. The county defines “chronic” as a person with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for one or more years, or who has experienced four or more episodes of homelessness within the past three years.

There were 65 homeless veterans, 78 percent of which were unsheltered. The county recently broke ground this month in Novato on a 24-unit project to house vets.

Marin reported 73 homeless families, with a total of 224 individuals and children. According to the report, homeless families were more likely to be people of color than the general population of the county. For example, 26 percent of respondent families identified as African American while they are 2 percent of the general population. Hispanic or Latinx families made up 44 percent of the count versus 19 percent of the general county population.

Two children were reported as “unaccompanied” by a parent or guardian and both were living unsheltered. Older adults over the age of 60 counted 280 individuals, 80 percent of which were living unsheltered.

On the night of this year’s count, 41 percent of the individuals surveyed were living in vehicles.

How did we wind up here?

The numbers also showed a deeper dive into the primary causes that led to a person’s homelessness. 31 percent of people reported they were unhoused due to economic issues. 24 percent reported their homelessness due to “personal relationship issues,” and 5 percent were experiencing domestic violence. About 21 percent of individuals reported substance use issues and 13 percent reported mental health issues.

A graphic from the Marin County 2022 Point-in-Time Report shows the top causes that led to homelessness. (Graphic courtesy of Marin County)

A large portion of respondents — 46 percent — reported disabling conditions, such as a developmental disability, HIV/AIDS, or a long-term physical or mental impairment. The county noted that such impairments impact a person’s ability to live independently but could be improved with stable housing.

One sad statistic from the report shows that 15 percent of respondents had previously been in foster care either in Marin or other counties and had fallen into homelessness. Marin’s numbers are less than the national average for formerly fostered youth, which the county cites as generally being one-third of that population.

Authorities in the county are now talking about solutions. Since 2020, Marin has received $24.6 million in funds from Project Homekey, a state program to shelter those living with chronic homelessness and other issues. Marin has also received another $25 million from the state and has allotted $20 million of its own money towards Homekey projects, according to the county.

Working on solutions

Currently, two housing projects to address homelessness have been completed in Marin, according to the county. La Casa Buena in Corte Madera consists of 18 units and opened in the early summer. “Jonathan’s Place” in San Rafael opened this fall and has 29 units of permanent supportive housing.

Upcoming projects include another complex in San Rafael with 43 units that is currently under construction and has a projected opening date of summer 2023. A site in Greenbrae has been earmarked to house people who have experienced chronic homelessness; construction on that project is set to begin next March with an opening date of early 2024.

The Greenbrae site faced backlash this year after supervisors approved the conversion of a former assisting living center for seniors into a housing complex with wrap-around services for chronically mentally ill and homeless individuals. A petition entitled “Save Our Children” was circulated via Change.org to halt the project; it gathered 3,044 signatures.

Dozens of residents also called into nearby Larkspur’s City Council meetings to express their opposition. Ironically, the county’s only crisis center for people experiencing mental illness already exists across the street from the planned supported housing project.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced earlier this month that he was freezing $1 billion in homeless housing grants to counties because he was unsatisfied with local governments’ plans for the money. At a Nov. 17 news conference in Napa, Newsom expanded on the issue.

“I’m mindful that we can’t continue down the path we’ve been on,” he said. “We’ve got to do more, we’ve got to better. I had 75 homeless plans, the first plans that have ever been required from the state of California, I’m proud we initiated that, and the sum total of all those plans in the aggregate showed for $15.3 billion, we would reduce homelessness by 2 percent. Just not good enough.”

La Casa Buena in Corte Madera, formerly a hotel, was converted to 18 residential units this summer with state Homekey project funds. (Photo courtesy city of San Rafael)

Marin’s Naja-Riese concurs, despite the fact that the governor just froze $3 million in state grants to the county.

“We agree with the governor that the status quo is unacceptable,” he said. “That is why Marin has invested significant resources locally and seen significant progress on our goals to end veteran’s homelessness and reduce chronic homelessness by half by 2024. We look forward to continued partnership with Gov. Newsom and the state to address the homelessness crisis and develop actionable solutions for our community.”

Newsom had withheld a third round of Homeless Housing Assistance and Prevention (HHAP) grants until local governments could come up with better plans than just a reduction in homelessness of 2 percent.

This past Friday, the governor met with various city and county officials in the state to discuss the freeze and plans going forward. According to a spokesperson from his office, the discussions led to the Newsom and local governments creating a “path forward” so that the cities and counties can receive their third round of funding, some as early as this week.

“The governor challenged local leaders to submit more ambitious plans for their next round of funding; 21 so far have pledged to step up in writing,” said his spokesperson. “The state is expecting the remaining applicants will do the same.”