The number of homeless people has increased in San Mateo County over the past four years, but fewer people are sleeping on city streets, according to a recently released survey.
The 2011 homeless census released Thursday by HOPE — an umbrella organization dedicated to eliminating homelessness in the county — found 2,149 homeless in a single night, a 17 percent increase in countywide homelessness from 2009. That included 1,162 unsheltered people living on streets, in vehicles or in homeless encampments, and 987 living in shelters, motels, residential treatment centers, jails and hospitals.
In particular, the report showed an 83 percent increase in those living in their vehicles and homeless encampments. The number living on the street, however, was down to 466 from 596 in 2007.
The report was based on a homeless count involving multiple teams covering every county street on the morning of Jan. 26. HOPE conducts the count every two years.
Based on the single-night count, organizers estimate that there are 6,737 homeless people in the county on an annual basis.
County supervisors Carole Groom and Don Horsley both went out on teams as early as 6 a.m. for the homeless count. Upon searching, Groom said she spotted three or four homeless calling San Mateo Creek their home.
“Nothing hits you more in the face than when you see them sleeping in a creek,” she said.
City and shelter officials credit the drop in street dwellers to motel-voucher programs and the renovation of hotels, like the Vendome in San Mateo. The overall rise in homelessness is due to a poor economy, which has seen the county’s unemployment rate double since 2007, said Groom.
“If you track homelessness over the last 25 years, it spikes whenever we have recessions,” said Al Camarillo, a volunteer at the Haven House homeless shelter and a homeless and poverty professor at Stanford University.
The homeless in San Mateo County don’t fit many of the urban stereotypes that residents might hold, said Karae Lisle, executive director of Shelter Network.
“Homelessness continues to grow on the Peninsula, especially with families,” Lisle said. “Homeless families are invisible … it was eye-opening to see the number of families on the Peninsula.”
The census found 1,789 households in the count, 8 percent of which included children. However, on their one-night count, HOPE recorded only two families on the street.
“We put people in motels every night,” Lisle said.
Shelter Network two weeks ago counted 19 families using a motel voucher program, families who would otherwise be on the street while they wait for a shelter space to open up. The network has an additional 54 families on their shelter waiting list.
Adrift in the county
6,737 Estimated homeless on an annual basis
2,149 Homeless on Jan. 26
1,789 Homeless households (92 percent singles and couples, 8 percent families with children)
High unsheltered homeless population zones:
Redwood City: 20 percent of the county
East Palo Alto: 33 percent of the county
Among those counted in the survey:
88% English speakers
79% Have at least one disability or chronic health issue
16% Have experienced domestic violence
Most are long-term residents of San Mateo County