Sonoma County is touting its annual 2023 Point-In-Time count of people experiencing homelessness, citing a 22 percent decline in overall homelessness and a 24 percent decline in people who had been designated “chronically” homeless from the previous year, the county said.

The Point-In-Time count, or PIT, was undertaken on a single day in January and was a census of sorts that counted the number of people in the county who were experiencing some level of homelessness at that time.

This year’s count found 2,266 individuals experiencing homelessness compared to 2,893 in 2022. The county said that this is the largest decrease since 2015.

Supervisor Chris Coursey said the new numbers were due to the “hard work” of entities in the county that have made it a goal to reduce homelessness, as well as Measure O, which was passed in 2020 and adds a quarter-cent sales tax to fund mental health and homelessness initiatives.

“These efforts … are truly making a difference and changing lives,” Coursey said in a statement released by the county. “As the report notes, we have more work to do, but we are moving in the right direction.”

More families on the street, fewer youth

The “more work to do” perhaps refers to the report’s finding that more families are experiencing homelessness this year, with 62 family units counted compared to last year’s 48.

However, most of the data appears encouraging. Homeless youth declined dramatically, with 294 individuals counted compared to 530 in 2022. Emergency shelter beds, permanent housing and permanent supportive housing, and transition housing initiatives undertaken by the county have resulted in more people living with a roof over their head.

“This progress comes from focus and coordination,” said Tina Rivera, the county’s director of the Department of Health Services. “The county team and our partner cities have pushed hard to place more housing units in operation and to provide strong supportive services to help keep people housed.”

“The county team and our partner cities have pushed hard to place more housing units in operation and to provide strong supportive services to help keep people housed.”

Tina Rivera, Department of Health Services director

Sonoma County has added several housing programs since last year’s PIT count, which have contributed to the lower numbers.

Three Homekey sites, a state program that aids counties in housing people who have been chronically homeless, have opened in Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and Rohnert Park, creating a total of 122 units. So-called “safe parking” sites and managed encampments have created room for more than 150 persons, while emergency housing vouchers have gone out to more than 200 persons, the county said.

Since this year’s PIT count on Jan. 27, three more Homekey sites are pending in Petaluma, Guerneville and Santa Rosa, which will provide 131 units.

The preliminary analysis of the 2023 PIT count, which was released May 24, will be followed up by a more detailed breakdown of the numbers this summer, the county said.

Katy St. Clair got her start in journalism by working in the classifieds department at the East Bay Express during the height of alt weeklies, then sweet talked her way into becoming staff writer, submissions editor, and music editor. She has been a columnist in the East Bay Express, SF Weekly, and the San Francisco Examiner. Starting in 2015, she begrudgingly scaled the inverted pyramid at dailies such as the Vallejo Times-Herald, The Vacaville Reporter, and the Daily Republic. She has her own independent news site and blog that covers the delightfully dysfunctional town of Vallejo, California, where she also collaborates with the investigative team at Open Vallejo. A passionate advocate for people with developmental disabilities, she serves on both the Board of the Arc of Solano and the Arc of California. She lives in Vallejo.