Homelessness Increased 27% Last Year. Here’s a Shocking Reason Why

Last week, I wrote:

One of the key challenges we face in Shasta County is that there are too few places to live and housing is expensive. Our housing shortage fuels our homelessness problem.

This last line drew particularly strong reactions from some of you – and I can understand why. Housing shortages are not the full story on the cause of homelessness – even though they are a part of it as this Zillow study shows – and blaming housing shortages is often a set up to justify housing first policies and big investments in affordable housing.

My goal is to do neither. Instead, my goal was to highlight a challenge facing our community and point to a pathway that could offer part of a solution (talking to Butte County).

Today, I want to fill in more of the picture of the state of homelessness in Shasta County.

First, the number of homeless people in Shasta County rose 27% in the last year – a dramatic increase. Below, you can see the total homeless count for the full Northern California Continuum of Care (which includes 6 other counties):

Note: The 2021 count was significantly reduced because it appears that they did not count unsheltered people due to COVID.

Why are people becoming homeless? According to their own answers, there are 4 main reasons:

  1. Family issues: 27%
  2. Job/income issues: 14%
  3. Medical/mental health issues: 14%
  4. Substance abuse issues: 13%

These are important and well-known issues, but there may be another even more startling explanation for the 27% increase we saw last year. It appears that 53% of the increase can be attributed to homeless people with a felony conviction.

It’s possible that this data isn’t telling the full story. But it is alarming enough to warrant investigation. I’m going to reach out to the County’s head of probation to see if she has any insight into this troubling statistic. If you know something, let me know.

What else do we know about the people who end up homeless in our county? It’s important that we collect and analyze this data because we need to understand who becomes homeless and why in order to help them get off the streets and prevent others from ending up there. Here’s what we know:

  • The most represented age group is 35-44
  • There are 2x more men than women
  • Of the unsheltered (vs. those living in temporary shelters), 73% have lived in Shasta County for at least 6 years
  • Over half of the unsheltered have been on the streets for at least 3 years
  • Over 30% of the unsheltered experience at least one of the following: addiction, mental illness, a physical disability, or a chronic health condition

There’s a lot more to unpack on this issue. If you have any information you think I should know or people I should talk to, please let me know.