Santa Cruz County reported an almost 20 percent decline in homelessness this year compared to 2022, bringing its number of people experiencing homelessness to its lowest total in more than 10 years, according to the county’s Point-in-Time Count report released Aug. 3.

The Point-in-Time Count team counted 1,804 people experiencing homelessness, both sheltered and unsheltered, when it did the count on Feb. 23. The county estimated that 1 in every 146 of its residents do not have access to housing.

Although the numbers are the lowest since Santa Cruz County did its first count of homeless people in 2011, county officials said there is still a long way to go.

Almost 80 percent of the county’s homeless people were unsheltered, meaning residing in a car, tent, park, or other place not meant for human habitation. Of those, almost half slept in a vehicle (46 percent), followed by tent (35 percent), outdoors or on the street (18 percent) and abandoned building (less than 1 percent).

“Addressing homelessness in Santa Cruz County requires long-term, systemic change, but we are heading in the right direction,” Robert Ratner, director of the Santa Cruz County Housing for Health Division, said in a statement.

“Addressing homelessness in Santa Cruz County requires long-term, systemic change, but we are heading in the right direction.”

Robert Ratner, Santa Cruz Co. Housing for Health Division

The county found that homelessness disproportionally impacted people of color — 44 percent identified as Hispanic or Latino. Additionally, 6 percent were Black and 4 percent were Native American or Alaskan Native, higher than the percentages those races make up in the county’s general population.

Prior to becoming homeless, 75 percent of the people included in the count had lived in Santa Cruz County. More than half of those people lived in the county for 10 years or more.

City and county staff and volunteers conducted the count in February under “challenging winter conditions,” the report stated. The count is usually held in late January but was delayed by severe storms.

The Point-in-Time Count is done on a single night to determine the number of people in a community who are experiencing homelessness, providing an idea of the prevalence of homelessness.

Every county or jurisdiction receiving funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is required to do a count at least once every two years. Santa Cruz County’s count was not taken in 2021 due to COVID-19.

Deidre Foley is an intern at Bay City News and an MA candidate at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, where she specializes in data journalism and health & science reporting. Previously she was managing editor for the San Francisco Foghorn and has bylines in the NYCity News Service, Byklner and the Nagazasshi. Deidre is interested in using data and visuals to tell social justice and human interest stories.