OAKLAND — Volunteers counted 4,071 people living on the street, in vehicles and in shelters during the city’s biennial point-in-time count in January, according to data released this week. That’s up from 2,761 people in 2017 and 2,191 people in 2015. Of those counted this year, 861 were living in shelters, and 3,210 were unsheltered.
Oakland’s 47 percent increase dwarfs San Francisco’s increase of 17 percent, though the larger city of San Francisco has a bigger homeless population.
“We need to add resources and pick up the pace and scale of our response, because the pace and scale of the problem is outstripping what we’re doing,” said Elaine De Coligny, executive director of EveryOneHome, the organization that spearheads Alameda County’s biennial homeless census.
The homelessness crisis is intensifying across the Bay Area, as cities struggle to house residents who can no longer afford the skyrocketing cost of renting or owning a home. Berkeley counted 1,108 homeless residents this year — up 14 percent from 2017, according to EveryOne Home. The number of homeless residents in Alameda County as a whole increased 43 percent from 2017. The tally was up 31 percent in Santa Clara County, 21 percent in San Mateo County, and 43 percent in Contra Costa County. Data from the county-wide counts generally is released first, followed by more detailed city-by-city reports.
In Oakland, the issue is becoming increasingly apparent as tent encampments sprawl across the city’s sidewalks, and cars and RVs turned into permanent dwellings line the curbs of neighborhood streets.
Mayor Libby Schaaf on Tuesday called the issue a “humanitarian crisis.”
“Oakland is responding with urgency and innovation,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “We’re making unprecedented investments to expand our incredibly successful rapid rehousing centers, as well as new interventions like Community Cabins and Safe RV Parks. By December, we will have created roughly 700 additional supported shelter beds.”
Oakland unveiled its first of three sanctioned safe parking sites for RVs last month, on a city-owned lot at 71st Avenue and San Leandro Street. The city also has housed dozens of homeless residents in communities of converted garden sheds, known as Tuff Sheds. And last year, Oakland launched a $9 million program aimed at preventing homelessness by providing financial and other resources to at-risk residents.
Even so, about three people are becoming homeless for each homeless person who finds housing in Alameda County, De Coligny said.
In the county, 34 percent of the unsheltered homeless population live in tents, 23 percent in cars or vans, 22 percent in RVs, 20 percent outside and 1 percent in abandoned buildings, De Coligny said. The number of homeless people sleeping in vehicles has surged since 2017, she said.
“It says that homelessness is moving up the economic ladder,” De Coligny said. “People are having to live on the streets who have more resources than homeless people did even four or five years ago.”
That’s because rents and home prices have gotten so expensive that even people with jobs and cars are being forced onto the streets, De Coligny said. The average price to rent an Oakland apartment is $2,674 — up 7 percent from last year, according to RentCafe.
Forty-seven percent of homeless residents in Alameda County are African-American, though Census data shows African-American residents make up just 11 percent of the county’s overall population. That discrepancy highlights the role institutional racism plays in homelessness, De Coligny said. Another 31 percent of the county’s homeless residents are Caucasian, and 17 percent are Latino, according to EveryOne Home.
The key to solving the problem is prevention, De Coligny said, and she urged Oakland and county leaders to invest in reaching at-risk residents before they end up on the streets, and to put resources toward building more low-income housing and providing rental subsidies.
“We certainly are all dismayed by what is happening,” she said. “Broken-hearted, frankly.”
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