What is Homelessness?

The federal government issued a new definition of homelessness on December 5, 2011.  It attempts to coordinate the definitions used by all federal departments to better assure consistency in programs and services, and to set the eligibility rules for programs and funds such as the new Emergency Solutions Grants. The chart below clarifies the definition that determines whether someone’s circumstances fall within that definition and are therefore eligible for specific services.

Information Sources

The most powerful source of information on homelessness is personal contact with people who are living with or have lived through being homeless. Nothing deepens our understanding of homelessness more than meeting and talking with a person who is living without a home. There are many opportunities to volunteer at shelters, day programs, food pantries, meal programs, health clinics, and other programs that might allow you to meet these people and understand the challenges they face every day.

Collective information on people living in shelters and transitional housing is collected through the countywide  Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), operated by the Sonoma County Community Development Commission.  All clients are asked a number of questions on admission and discharge, and this information flows into a central system. Data from the HMIS  allows us to see where services are most needed, what results our systems are producing. and where we need to shore up services or develop resources.

Homeless Counts in Sonoma County

Much of the hard data on unsheltered people is gathered through “Counts” followed by a survey. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires that each county that receives Continuum of Care funding for homeless transitional and permanent supportive housing and services conduct a 24-hour face-to-face Point-in-Time Count of homeless people in late January. These reports contain a wealth of information that help our community to best target resources and program activities.

The 2016 Sonoma County Point-In-Time Homeless Census & Survey is now available. 2,906 people were homeless and over 1900 of them were unsheltered.  Among those who were unsheltered, 29% were living on the street, 7% in abandoned buildings, 20% in cars/vans/RVs and 10% in encampments. Among the 34% who were sheltered, 20% were in emergency shelters and 14% were in transitional housing at the time of the count. You can access the full report (74 pages) by clicking here or the two-page Executive Summary by clicking here.

The updated 2015 Sonoma County Point-In-Time Homeless Census & Survey is also available. You can access the full report (72 pages) by clicking here and the two-page Executive Summary by clicking here.

The 2013 Sonoma County Point-In-Time Homeless Census & Survey is also available. You can access the full report, along with the responses to the general and youth surveys, and the presentation that was made to the Board of Supervisors on May 7, 2013 by clicking here. The census identified 3,309 unsheltered and another 971 sheltered individuals  very early one January morning. It was conducted by 173 homeless guides and volunteers. A separate Youth Census was also conducted by 19 homeless youth and outreach staff that afternoon. There were a total of 1,128 unaccompanied children (<18) and transition-aged youth (18-24) in the count.

The 2011 Sonoma County Point-In-Time Homeless Census & Survey  presents the results of the January 28, 2011 Homeless Census, and 617 surveys conducted countywide in February.  Where possible, the report compares this count to the one conducted in 2009 with the same methodology.

4,539 people were counted in 2011, a 40% increase over 2009. Some of the increase was credited to improved effort on this second time using this method: including a Sonoma Valley deployment center and improved local knowledge in Rohnert Park. Even with that, much of the increase is an actual rise in homelessness.  Food pantries have reported a 30% – 40% increase in demand over the same period, as did the Task Force’s own Winter Warmth program providing survival gear for the cold wet winters.  The surveys generate an estimate that 2.6% of Sonoma County residents (12,565 persons) experience homelessness annually.

In addition, a special Point-In-Time Count of Sheltered Clients was conducted in early 2012. For more information please visit: sonoma-county.org/cdc/cdhomeless.htm

Applied Survey Research of Watsonville was contracted to conduct the 2011 and 2009 Counts. The projects relied on homeless people to act as paid guides to reach encampments and places where homeless people gather.

Sonoma County Homeless Counts 2009 & 2007, and California’s 2009 Homeless Count

Applied Survey Research of Watsonville was first contracted to conduct the 2009 Count. The Sonoma County Task Force for the Homeless was contracted by the County to conduct the Homeless Counts in 2005 and 2007. These reports contain considerable data on the people who were homeless at the time, their circumstances, and the issues that contributed to their situation. Both the 2009 Homeless Census and Survey and 2007 Homeless Count Reports are available below, as well as a summary of 2009 Count figures for the State from Housing California. The aggregate number of homeless people counted at the federal level from all the January 2009 Point-in-Time Counts was 643,000.

California’s 2009 Homeless Count Summary