While Santa Clara County recently reported an increase in homelessness, San Benito County experienced a significant drop in the last two years, according to the county’s Homeless Census and Survey.
According to the count conducted on Jan. 31, there are 289 homeless persons in San Benito County. That’s a 45% drop from the 2017 figure of 527. It is also the second lowest number reported in San Benito County since 2011, when 193 people were counted.
With the county’s homeless population continuing to fall since reaching a peak in 2015 with 651, there are different ways of viewing the results.
Enrique Arreola, deputy director of the San Benito County Health and Human Services Agency and also director of the Workforce Development Board, presented the statistics to the San Benito County Board of Supervisors on Aug. 20. He said the count can be a sign that the county is doing its job, or that it wasn’t able to locate a large population.
“It rained a lot during this period of time,” Arreola said. “They could have also gone in places where it was harder to locate.”
Arreola said eight teams conducted the count and visited different locations like hotels, the County of San Benito Family Winter Shelter, and camps at the San Benito River.
In an effort to understand the decrease, Supervisor Peter Hernandez asked whether buses, as he had heard, continued to bring homeless people to the county. Arreola said he had heard in the past that individuals were dropped off, and that “It’s at least a year that I have not heard anything,” he said. “I’m not sure if it stopped.”
Arreola said San Benito County dealt with a situation where an organization from Gilroy dropped off homeless persons at the Thousand Trails campground. The organization, which he did not name during the meeting but later told BenitoLink was the Compassion Center, would provide services to the homeless at the campground in the mornings.
“We addressed it at the time,” Arreola told the supervisors. “That eventually went away.”
Although the numbers are encouraging, Arreola said there was still a lot of need in the homeless community, including those who were missed in the count.
“A real solution, again in my opinion, is permanent housing, whether it’s smaller units or tiny homes,” he said. “We need a lot more support and a lot more help, but for the time being we are doing a terrific job.”
In its effort to eliminate homelessness, Arreola said the county is working on two projects. The first is implementing a $1.4 million grant to construct eight 200-square-foot transitional housing units behind the H.O.M.E. Resource Center where residents could live for up to two years. The county is also going to use $1.1 million from Homeless Emergency Aid Program funding for 14 transitional housing units at the Migrant Center.
In the weeks following the count, the county administered a survey to 121 homeless persons to profile their characteristics and experiences. Of those surveyed, 54% reported they have been living in San Benito County over five years.
Other statistics from the survey include:
- 50% have been homeless longer than a year
- 79% are receiving government benefits
- 30% are employed
- 85% lived in San Benito County prior to becoming homeless
- 84% are 25 years or older
- 40% are sheltered
- 40% are experiencing their first episode of homelessness
Additionally, Arreola said the homeless were asked their thoughts on how they could get permanent housing. Eighty-four percent indicated that rental assistance would be the top solution, while 38% indicated that employment or more income would help them most.
Supervisor Anthony Botelho said what stood out to him was that only one in 15 veterans reported as homeless was sheltered.
“I think that of any population, that they ought to be the ones that are probably the most impacted for us to being able to help and get them sheltered,” Botelho said.
He also said that despite the survey showing that all 19 families mentioned in the report were sheltered, there were probably other families not reported and in need of shelter. Arreola said the county operated its winter shelter for families at the time of the count, which is why the report showed all the families as sheltered.
Said Botelho: “We hope to continue to work toward helping them, especially with young children involved.”
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