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PIT Count reveals reduction in SLO County's homeless population

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San Luis Obispo County's homeless population is reportedly decreasing, according to data from the preliminary Point-in-Time (PIT) Count.

Released on May 6, early numbers showed that volunteers counted 1,171 homeless people on the night of Jan. 23—roughly 23 percent and 26 percent lower than the unhoused individuals accounted for in the 2022 and 2019 PIT Counts, respectively. The drop mirrored the downward trend established in the previous 2022 PIT Count.

NEW FACES Switching from the sample survey method to the full census approach saw a growth in Point-in-Time Count volunteers for SLO County, from 40 tabulators in 2022 to 250 sign-ups in 2024. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SLO COUNTY HOMELESS SERVICES DIVISION
  • Photo Courtesy Of SLO County Homeless Services Division
  • NEW FACES Switching from the sample survey method to the full census approach saw a growth in Point-in-Time Count volunteers for SLO County, from 40 tabulators in 2022 to 250 sign-ups in 2024.

"A complete analysis of homelessness in any community won't come from one initiative alone, but the information learned from the PIT Count demonstrates a promising trend," Homeless Management Information System Program Manager Kari Howell told New Times on May 8. "We are glad to see the county's effort and the hard work of service providers reflected in the data as the county continues to expand service provision, community partnerships, and, importantly, pathways to housing."

SLO County conducted the 2024 PIT Count until Jan. 31, with the help of 250 volunteers deployed from logistic centers in San Miguel, Paso Robles, Atascadero, Morro Bay, SLO, Arroyo Grande, and Nipomo. The wide pool of volunteers reflected the county's switch to a different methodology of data collection.

Until 2024, the county tabulated PIT Counts once every two years using the sample survey method where volunteers only surveyed a subset of the homeless community. That subset then represented the entire homeless population under study. Now, the county uses the more comprehensive full census method, which aims to survey as many people as possible.

The full census method demanded more resources. The county made a marked jump from appointing just 40 volunteers in 2022 to 250 volunteers this year.

"To conduct a complete census with total geographic coverage, the county needed to expand on-site and training resources as well as significantly increase community participation," Howell said. "All volunteers completed required training, available in-person and virtually, in advance of the PIT Count and utilized an app on their phones (or paper surveys) to interview and count people experiencing homelessness."

She added the full census method is the preferred methodology from the U.S. Deptartment of Housing and Urban Development because it ensures more reliability in the gathered data. County consultant Thurmond Consulting also recommended the full census method to reestablish a baseline for future reporting and analysis, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic affected the 2022 PIT Count. Making the switch resulted in an increase of the number of homeless people surveyed from 29 percent in 2022 to 64 percent in 2024.

The average majority of surveyed homeless people were white men who had lived in SLO County for at least a year. Forty-two percent of those surveyed experienced unsheltered homelessness for five years or more, and 97 percent of counted people belonged to an "adults only (no children) household."

The data presented an eye-opener for Howell too.

"During the aggregate data and de-duplication phase, there were more than 150 duplicate surveys and observations for the PIT Count, meaning volunteers began to cross into each other's assigned areas to truly survey the region," she said. "This surprised me as it reinforced the expansive geographic coverage and enthusiastic hard work of the volunteers on Jan. 23."

In contrast, neighboring Santa Barbara County saw a 12 percent increase in the number of homeless people tallied for its annual PIT Count. The count rose from 1,887 homeless people in 2022 to 2,119 unhoused individuals in 2024. The county has used the full census method since 2019.

"The county of Santa Barbara uses mapping software to assist outreach teams in identifying encampments throughout the region and partnered with New Beginnings Safe Parking Program to ensure a thorough vehicle count," Homeless Assistance Program Manager Kimberlee Albers told New Times. "The robust nature of this method and data allowed teams to more accurately count and interview those living unsheltered in previously hard-to-reach locations and vehicles."

Santa Barbara County attributed the increase to the lack of affordable housing; stagnation of wages versus rent costs; and the end of the pandemic-inspired eviction moratoriums, emergency housing vouchers, and rental assistance programs.

For SLO County, the PIT Count and a balanced review of data within the newly updated Homeless Management Information System help present an overall picture of the state of homeless. Now, county officials are preparing to release the more in-depth community report of the PIT Count in late spring once the Department of Housing and Urban Development verifies the data. Δ

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