Homelessness in San Diego County rose 22 percent last year. More of them are women, seniors and veterans (2023)


A count conducted in January found a record high 10,264 homeless people throughout San Diego County, including 5,171 living outdoors or in vehicles, according to findings released Thursday.

The results of the Jan. 26 count represent a 22 percent increase from last year’s count of 8,427 homeless people. The count showed more women and seniors are homeless this year, and both represent a greater percent of the homeless population than last year.

The number of homeless veterans also increased, though their percent of the population remained the same.


The population of people living on the street, in canyons and in vehicles increased by two digits across the county, with a 32 percent increase just in the city of San Diego. Every East County city saw an increase in the number of people living without shelter while every coastal North County city saw a decrease.

A closer look at the numbers over the past decade shows there were times when the countywide population of homeless people living outdoors was larger than today. Downtown San Diego, however, has seen the number of people living on sidewalk encampments surge to almost 2,000, making the crisis more visible than ever.

With growing pressure on local officials to address the problem, the San Diego City Council on Tuesday will consider adopting an ordinance prohibiting camping on public spaces. The city of San Diego this summer is planning to open the region’s first two safe sleeping areas, which will allow about 500 people to legally camp in designated areas, while Chula Vista recently opened a shelter village of small cabins and Oceanside and National City each have plans to open traditional shelters.

(Video) Bay Area Homeless - Concern or Crisis Part 1

The city of San Diego, in partnership with the county, also is applying for state funds that would pay for the purchase of hotels and an apartment building that would be used to create permanent homes for hundreds of homeless people.

In one caveat about the 22 percent increase in this year’s count, Regional Task Force on Homelessness CEO Tamera Kohler said the total includes 661 people who were found on state property who had not been included in past counts because the land was gated and inaccessible.

Volunteers were able to count people on the property for the first time this year with permission from the California Department of Transportation, and the addition affects a year-to-year comparison.

Subtracting the 661 people on Caltrans property, the total count would be 9,603, a 13 percent increase from last year. With either figure, this would be the second two-digit increase in a row, with last year showing a 10 percent increase from the previous count in January 2020.

“These are sobering numbers, no matter how we look at them,” Kohler said.

Focusing on just the unsheltered population and including the people on Caltrans property, the unsheltered population rose from 4,106 to 5,171, an increase of 26 percent.

Not counting people found on Caltrans property, the unsheltered population rose 10 percent to reach 4,510 people. The unsheltered population includes 543 people who were living in cars or RVs.

The Regional Task Force on Homelessness has organized the countywide count each year except 2021, which it skipped because of the pandemic. The count is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which uses the data to determine funding for homeless programs.

Homelessness nationwide has increased by 6 percent since 2017, and last year’s count found about 421,400 homeless people throughout the country, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. San Diego County had the nation’s eighth-largest homeless population in 2022, according to HUD. The county at times has had the fourth-largest homeless population.

Substance use, mental illness and the cost and availability of housing have all been identified as contributing causes of homelessness, and the debate about solutions has become politically contentious in recent times.

One thing that is clear, however, is resources have not been able to keep pace with the growing number of homeless people in the county.

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The Regional Task Force on Homelessness began releasing reports last year that showed an average of 10 homeless people found housing each month while 13 people fell into homelessness for the first time.

Kohler said homeless people often cite income issues as their biggest challenge in trying to find housing they once could afford.

“We are always struggling with an under-resourced system that just doesn’t have the capacity to deal with the numbers we’re seeing,” she said.

A regional breakdown of this year’s count shows 6,500 homeless people were in the city of San Diego, representing 63 percent of the county’s homeless population, up from 57 percent last year.

East County had the second-largest homeless population, with 1,703 people, representing 17 percent of the entire count.

North County had the next largest with 1,508 people, or 14 percent of the population. Broken down, coastal North County had 783 people for 8 percent of the total and inland North County had 653 people for 6 percent.

South County had 725 percent for 6 percent of the population.

Focusing on just unsheltered populations, 13 cities and unincorporated areas saw increases this year, with the largest number in San Diego, which had 3,285 people living outdoors or in vehicles, a 32 percent increase from last year.

Chula Vista had the second-largest unsheltered population with 318 people, a 54 percent increase, and Escondido had the third-highest with 304 people, a 67 percent increase.

While the county’s total number is at a record high, a look back over the past dozen years shows the population has risen and fallen over time. Before the city of San Diego began opening large tented homeless shelters in 2017, there were two years when the number of people on the street was even higher than this year.

The 2017 count found 5,621 people living without shelter countywide, or 450 more than this year, according to data on the Regional Task Force on Homelessness website. The total count that year was 9,116 homeless people, with just 1,700 in emergency shelters. The city of San Diego would open its first large 350-bed shelter later that year.

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In 2012, the homeless population was 9,638, the highest on record before this year. Only 1,040 people were in emergency shelters that year, and 5,267 people were counted outdoors, almost 100 more than this year.

This year’s count found 3,895 people in emergency shelters, which were at 86 percent capacity. An additional 1,148 people were in transitional housing and 50 were living in a residential facility for people in rehab.

This year’s count was the most geographically extensive, covering 600 out of the county’s 626 Census tracts.

Besides collecting raw numbers, volunteers also ask willing participants a number of questions to better understand the demographics of the county’s homeless population.

This year’s count found more women living on the street than last year, with the number increasing from 1,851 to 2,187. Women represented 25 percent of the county’s unsheltered population last year and 29 percent this year.

The percent of women in shelters remained at 43 percent, while the actual number increased from 1,851 to 2,187.

More seniors are homeless this year, and they are making up a greater percentage of people living without shelter.

The latest data shows 1,500 people 55 or older were living outdoors, or 29 percent of the unsheltered population. Last year’s count found 1,027 seniors outdoor, representing 25 percent of the unsheltered population.

Of seniors living without shelter, 46 percent said they were experiencing homelessness for the first time, and 82 percent said they became homeless while living in San Diego County. Women represented 24 percent of the unsheltered senior population, and 49 percent of seniors had a physical disability.

Kohler said an 81-year-old man was among the people found in a homeless encampment.

The count found 1,170 seniors in shelters, up from the 1,027 counted in shelters last year. Seniors represent 23 percent of people in shelters.

(Video) (Un)housed in paradise: how the homeless can get off the street

The count found 324 youths living without shelter, just 10 more from last year’s count. Of those, 50 were younger than 18 and 274 were ages 18-24. The number of youths in shelters increased from 1,528 last year to 1,687 this year.

Homeless people who participated in surveys were asked about their mental health, substance use and other issues.

Of those responding, 28 percent of unsheltered homeless people and 18 percent of people in shelters said they had a serious mental illness.

Twenty-one percent of unsheltered people and 13 percent of people in shelters said they had a substance use disorder, and 12 percent of unsheltered people and 5 percent of people in shelters said they were fleeing domestic violence. Two percent of all respondents said they had HIV/AIDS.

Chronically homeless people made up 44 percent of the unsheltered population, with 2,265 living outdoors, and they represented 25 percent of the sheltered population. HUD defines a chronically homeless person as someone who has been homeless for at least 12 months or on at least four separate occasions in the previous three years.

In a breakdown by race, White people made up 59 percent of the unsheltered homeless population, Black people made up 19 percent and people of multiple races made up 16 percent. Black people make up about 6 percent of the county’s overall population and are consistently over-represented in the county’s homeless population. Asian or Asian Americans made up 1 percent of the population and American Indians made up 3 percent.

The number of homeless veterans was 814 this year, up from 686 last year, a 17 percent increase. The number of veterans without shelter increased from 378 to 473, a 22 percent increase.

The increase comes despite a nationwide push to decrease homelessness among veterans during the past decade, and local numbers still are lower than in recent years.

In November, HUD announced veteran homelessness had declined by 11 percent since 2020, continuing a trend that has seen an overall 55 percent drop in veteran homelessness since 2010.

Locally, veteran homelessness also has declined during the past decade, though there have been upticks. This year’s count of 814 homeless veterans is 52 percent lower than the 1,381 homeless veterans counted in 2015. The 473 unsheltered veterans counted this year is a 33 percent decrease from the 659 counted in 2018.

In a question not required by HUD, volunteers in the count ask homeless people if they became homeless in San Diego County. This year’s survey found 80 percent said they became homeless in San Diego, a drop from 85 percent last year.

(Video) Bay Area Homeless - Concern or Crisis Part 2

Kohler said the question is on the survey in response to continued speculation that homeless people are moving to San Diego County from other areas.


Homelessness in San Diego County rose 22 percent last year. More of them are women, seniors and veterans? ›

More of them are women, seniors and veterans. A count conducted in January found a record high 10,264 homeless people throughout San Diego County, including 5,171 living outdoors or in vehicles, according to findings released Thursday.

How much of the homeless population is made up of veterans? ›

But sometimes people, even veterans fall through the cracks. There are over 630,000 homeless people in America. 67,495 are veterans. It amazes me that in today's society, over 1 in 10 homeless people in America are veterans.

How many veterans are homeless in San Diego? ›

That still leaves about 33,000 homeless veterans nationwide, however, and a February 2022 count in San Diego County found about 700 local homeless veterans.

Why are so many veterans homeless? ›

Many of these veterans suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, an anxiety disorder that often occurs after extreme emotional trauma involving threat or injury. Causes of homelessness include: Disabilities - physical injury or mental illness. Substance abuse - drug abuse or alcoholism.

How many homeless people are in San Diego 2023? ›

WeAllCount 2023 data. Overall, the count found no less than 10,264 individuals experiencing homelessness across our region. This number includes 5,171 unsheltered San Diegans with 5,093 individuals in shelters and transitional housing.

Are veterans 50% more likely to become homeless due to poverty than others? ›

What is the primary cause of veteran homelessness? Veterans are 50% more likely to become homeless than other Americans due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing. About 1.5 million veterans are considered at-risk of homelessness.

Are veterans over represented in the homeless population? ›

Veterans are overrepresented within the homeless population and have greater risk of homelessness compared to the general population living in poverty.

What city has the most homeless veterans? ›

Based on this data, we found that Los Angeles, a city known for opulent homes and wealthy movie stars, is home to the highest count of homeless veterans by a huge margin. Nearly 8,000 veterans live on Los Angeles streets.

Why are so many veterans homeless in California? ›

High Cost Of Living In California

Without a steady source of income, veterans are often unable to keep up with their bills, leading them into homelessness.

What percentage of San Diego is military? ›

Military veterans make up more than 13% of the population of San Diego County.

Do most veterans become homeless? ›

The need is great. California has the highest rate of unsheltered veterans at more than 70%, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

What problems do homeless veterans face? ›

Many homeless Veterans have negative experiences with primary care—In a large national survey of Veterans with mental health or substance use disorders, homeless Veterans reported more negative experiences with comprehensive care, communication, care coordination, medical decision-making, and self-management support ...

Which represents the largest group of homeless adults? ›

Single individuals not part of family households continue to represent the largest group of people experiencing homelessness.

How many homeless seniors are in San Diego? ›

In 2020, 27% of San Diego's unsheltered residents were 55 years and older, equating to more than 2,000 seniors living on our streets. Within this group of older adults: 88% of seniors became homeless in San Diego. 43% are experiencing homelessness for the first time.

Who is the fastest growing homeless population? ›

Older adults, those age 65 and older, represent the fastest growing group of homeless, and by 2030 their numbers are expected to triple, according to Dr.

Why are female veterans more likely to be homeless? ›

Trauma: There are higher rates of physical/mental health problems,(MST, alcohol/drug abuse and relationship difficulties) among female veterans that can be linked to an overall increase in unemployment and high rate of homelessness for this population.

What percentage of homeless veterans have PTSD? ›

To further compound the issues affecting all homeless people, such as a lack of affordable housing, livable income, and access to health care, it is estimated that 80 percent of homeless veterans suffer from mental health challenges, substance abuse, and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Are 40% of homeless men veterans? ›

Approximately 40% of homeless men are veterans, although veterans comprise only 34% of the general adult male population.

Which country has the highest homeless rate in the world? ›

Syria has the world's highest homeless rate with one-third – roughly 29.6% – of the country's 22 million population being homeless. Syria continues to have the worst displacement situation in the world.

What are the characteristics of homeless veterans? ›

Homeless veteran demographics
  • 13% of the homeless adult population are veterans.
  • 20% of the male homeless population are veterans.
  • 68% reside in principal cities.
  • 32% reside in suburban/rural areas.
  • 51% of individual homeless veterans have disabilities.
  • 50% have serious mental illness.
  • 70% have substance abuse problems.
Feb 4, 2021

How many homeless veterans are in Southern California? ›

This statistic shows the estimated number of homeless veterans in the United States in 2022, by state. In 2022, about 10,395 veterans living in California were homeless.

Are veterans more likely to be homeless than civilians? ›

Ex-service members have long been at greater risk of homelessness than the general population. Thomas Byrne, a Boston University School of Social Work associate professor, is an expert on homelessness, and among the researchers studying why veterans are more likely to land in shelters—and how to better help them.

How bad is veteran homelessness in America? ›

The data show that on a single night in January 2022, there were 33,136 Veterans who were experiencing homelessness in the United States – down from 37,252 in 2020.

What is the veteran homeless rate in California? ›

In 2021, 111,179 VA home loan guarantees were made in California to support veteran homeowners. VA loans represented 5.8 percent of California's home mortgage originations in 2021. HUD estimates that approximately 10,395 California veterans are homeless.

Why are veterans considered a vulnerable population? ›

After coming home from war, many soldiers face physical, mental, and social issues that make them a vulnerable population. Some of these issues include, but are not limited to: Brain Damage. Depression.

How many homeless veterans are in the US right now? ›

The January 2022 PIT Count

The total number of Veterans who experienced homelessness was 33,129 – a decrease of 11% over January 2020, the last year a full PIT Count was conducted.

What is the largest military base in San Diego? ›

Naval Base San Diego is the U.S. Navy's largest base on the West Coast and the principal homeport of the Pacific Fleet. Homeport to 54 ships, the base has 13 piers that stretch over 977 acres of land and 326 acres of water. The total on-base population is 20,000 military personnel and 6,000 civilians.

Why do Marines go to San Diego? ›

Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego's main mission is the initial training of USMC enlisted male recruits living west of the Mississippi River. Over 21,000 recruits are trained at MCRD each year. The Depot is also home to the Marine Corps' Recruiter School and Western Recruiting Region's Drill Instructors School.

How many veterans are homeless in the US 2023? ›

WASHINGTON — Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced its 2023 goals for preventing and ending Veteran homelessness. Specifically, in 2023, VA will: Place at least 38,000 Veterans experiencing homelessness into permanent housing.

How many veterans are over the age of 65? ›

Number of veterans in the United States in 2021, by gender and age
Age in yearsMaleFemale
35 to 543,312,470644,475
55 to 642,671,347403,925
65 to 743,841,617245,253
75 and older3,913,455115,200
1 more row
Jun 2, 2023

What percentage of veterans are in poverty? ›

USDA, Economic Research Service's (ERS) analysis of the American Community Survey estimates for 2015–19 reveal the poverty rate for veterans to be nearly 5 percentage points lower than for non-veteran adults (8.2 percent compared to 12.8 percent).

What is the biggest problem for veterans? ›

Every veteran is affected by service. They may face health problems, employment issues and struggles around accessing their benefits—immediately after service but also in the years to come. These are some of the most common issues they encounter and how DAV can help.

What are the biggest needs for veterans? ›

There are many challenges that veterans face after they leave the military.
  • Unemployment. Many veterans struggle to find work after they return home. ...
  • Relationship with Themselves. Veterans do a noble thing by serving their country. ...
  • Homelessness. ...
  • Physical Handicaps. ...
  • Poor Mental Health.

Why do veterans struggle to find jobs? ›

Appears In. Veterans continue to struggle to gain employment because of culture gaps between civilian society and their military pasts, as well as a lack of seamless integration amongst Veteran care programs.

What do homeless people prefer to be called? ›

Unhoused is probably the most popular alternative to the word “homeless.” It's undoubtedly the one I see most often recommended by advocates.

What is the hardest part of being homeless? ›

Life on the streets can be a demeaning, humiliating and, at times, dehumanizing experience. Clearly, living without material comforts is only one part of the plight. The mental struggle caused by isolation and abuse is often an even more difficult burden to bear.

What ethnicity is the most homeless? ›

Race. Racial minorities experience homelessness at a disproportionate rate. For example, black or African Americans make up 13% of the general population but 40% of the homeless population. Indigenous people across the country continue to experience homelessness at even higher rates.

What is the root cause of homelessness? ›

Poverty. On a global scale, poverty is one of the most significant root causes of homelessness. Stagnant wages, unemployment, and high housing and healthcare costs all play into poverty. Being unable to afford essentials like housing, food, education, and more greatly increases a person's or family's risk.

What is the number 1 cause of homelessness in California? ›

Poverty. Low wages. Mental illness and the lack of needed services (Single adult individuals)

Why is the homeless population so high in San Diego? ›

McElroy said the current situation from COVID, inflation and high rent prices is a perfect storm that many people haven't been able to weather, which forced them into homelessness. “There's a chronic need for additional withdrawal beads in San Diego,” said Dr.

Where are the most homeless in San Diego? ›

As in past months, the largest homeless population was in the East Village area, which found 794 people.

Where are most homeless people in San Diego? ›

As in past months, the largest homeless population was in the East Village area, with a count of 794 people.

Is the homeless problem getting worse in San Diego? ›

At the same time, homelessness in San Diego has become more visible than ever before. More than three times as many people are living on downtown sidewalks than before the pandemic, and the number of San Diegans who lose housing is outpacing the number that can be helped.

Why do homeless people age so fast? ›

Because of prolonged exposure to stress, those living in poverty often experience premature aging, also known as weathering. Weathering can dramatically impact those without stable housing, causing individuals to prematurely age by 10 to 20 years beyond their chronological age.

What city in America has the highest homeless population? ›

In 2022, Los Angeles had the nation's largest homeless population. About 582,000 Americans are experiencing homelessness, according to 2022 Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) data.

What city has the worst homeless population? ›

Denver and Colorado Springs have the largest homeless communities.

Are 11% of all homeless adults in the US veterans? ›

Only 7% of the general population can claim veteran status, but nearly 13% of the homeless adult population are veterans.

How many US veterans are homeless in 2023? ›

WASHINGTON — Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced its 2023 goals for preventing and ending Veteran homelessness. Specifically, in 2023, VA will: Place at least 38,000 Veterans experiencing homelessness into permanent housing.

What percentage of homeless are veterans in California? ›

veterans in California represented 31% of the national homeless veteran population. California also had the highest rate of unsheltered veterans at 70.1% (7,996 were unsheltered). • California experienced an increase in veteran homelessness from 2019-2020, which was 421 people (3.8%).

How many of the homeless in California are veterans? ›

This statistic shows the estimated number of homeless veterans in the United States in 2022, by state. In 2022, about 10,395 veterans living in California were homeless.

What can the VA do for a homeless veteran? ›

VA Benefits for Homeless Veterans
  • Health Care. The VA Health Care Network provides care to Veterans across the nation at VA Medical Centers, Community-Based Outpatient Clinics, and Vet Centers. ...
  • Housing Assistance. ...
  • Employment Assistance. ...
  • Foreclosure Assistance.

Did the VA surpass the goal to house homeless veterans? ›

VA Aims to House 38,000 Homeless Vets in 2023, Repeating Goal It Surpassed Last Year. The Department of Veterans Affairs hopes to permanently house 38,000 unsheltered veterans this year, with a goal to ensure that 95% of them remain in those apartments or homes instead of returning to the streets.

How much does the US spend on homeless veterans? ›

In addition to SSVF's $380 million annual appropriation, $602 million was allocated to the SSVF program in FY 2020 from the CARES Act to provide emergency housing and homelessness prevention assistance to very low income Veteran families.

How many veterans have PTSD? ›

Or you may have experienced a serious training accident. These types of events can lead to PTSD. PTSD is slightly more common among Veterans than civilians. At some point in their life, 7 out of every 100 Veterans (or 7%) will have PTSD.

Do veterans earn more than non veterans? ›

Households headed by veterans have higher incomes and are less likely to be in poverty, on average, and this is especially the case for veterans in racial or ethnic minority groups and those with less education.

Do veterans make more than non veterans? ›

Post-9/11 veterans earned more than nonveterans depending on their education level: a median $46,000 a year compared to about $35,000 for nonveterans.

What percentage of veterans are black? ›

This statistic shows the total number of veterans in the United States in 2021, distinguished by race and Hispanic origin. In 2022 there were around 2.03 million Black or African American veterans in the United States, representing around 12 percent of the total veteran population.


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