There are more people going without housing in Alameda County this year than there were before the pandemic began, but local officials say things could have been much worse.
The point-in-time counts Union City, Fremont and Newark did on the night of Feb. 22 and the morning of Feb. 23 earlier this year found the number of people going without shelter jumped from 106 in 2019 to 489 this year in Union City and from 485 to 866 in Fremont. Newark was the only city of the three to see a decrease, from 59 unsheltered people in 2019 to 32 in 2022.
The number of people who were homeless in the broader county also increased, from 8,022 individuals, of whom 1,710 were in a shelter, in 2019 to 9,747, of whom 2,612 were in a shelter, this year.
While there was a 22% increase in homelessness across the county, Chelsea Andrews, executive director of nonprofit EveryOne Home, said at a press conference in May there was a 20% increase occurring annually in Alameda County before the pandemic.
“So we consider this to be a huge success and a direct reflection of the additional resources that were infused into our system,” Andrews said.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires communities to get a snapshot of how many people are going without housing in their area every two years in order to access funding for services to help those individuals.
One of the trends noticed this year was a 39% increase in people, about 3,918 individuals, living in cars, vans and recreational vehicles.
Most of the unsheltered people in Union City (69%) were living in their cars or vans, followed by 18% who were in recreational vehicles. In Fremont, 20% were living in tents, 36% in cars or vans, 30% in RVs, 13% outside on the street and 1% were in abandoned buildings. In Newark, 36% of people were in tents, 19% were in vehicles, 22% in RVs and 22% were outside.
“It has been three years since the last Point in Time count, during which we’ve experienced an unprecedented pandemic, and therefore anticipated an increase in unsheltered homelessness in our community,” Fremont Mayor Lily Mei said in a statement last month. “The recent PIT count validates the continued need for permanent affordable housing, as well as programs and services to help stabilize Fremont community residents living outside and specifically in vehicles. Fremont will continue to advocate for work on regional solutions to this issue and for much needed funding to help support our response to this challenge.”
The county as a whole saw a large increase in the number of people in shelters, Andrews said, a 53% increase (902 people) between 2019 and this year. That’s compared to a 13% increase (823 people) in the unsheltered population.
That’s “attributable to additional shelter beds being developed throughout our county over the course of the last three years as well as emergency shelter that was put in place in the midst of this pandemic through federal, state and local resources,” Andrews said.
Union City doesn’t have any shelters, but Newark and Fremont both have emergency shelters and Fremont also has transitional housing available.
Black and white people were disproportionately represented in the shelters in Newark, which was also the case in Fremont, though it also had a disproportionate number of Latinx individuals in its shelters, too.
Black people made up 48% and 27% of the shelter population in Fremont and Newark, respectively, despite making up 3% of both cities’ populations. White people make up 22% of the Fremont population and 29% of the Newark population, but make up 38% of the sheltered population in the former and 58% in the latter.
Kerry Abbott, director of the county Health Care Services Agency’s Office of Homeless Care and Coordination, said the increase in the number of people who are homeless has coincided with increasing rents, which have gone up 9% since 2019, “something that our lowest-income residents in Alameda County could ill afford.”
The county’s long-term plan to end homelessness in the county while improving racial equity is laid out in its Home Together 2026 Community Plan. For the plan to achieve its goal, Abbott said the county would need 24,340 new units or subsidies at a cost of $2.5 billion over five years.
Specifically, it would require 4,195 additional supportive housing units for people that need ongoing assistance, 3,190 units for older or frail adults, 10,070 new affordable units to get people out of homelessness with ongoing economic support and lighter services, 5,240 subsidies to prevent people who were homeless from going back into homelessness, and 1,645 additional rapid rehousing slots.
“This strategy will not be possible without additional resources in our system,” Abbott said.
A more detailed report is expected in the coming weeks. For more information, visit EveryOne Home.