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Rising Numbers Among Homeless Population in Orange County

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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires that the number of homeless individuals is tracked and counted in order to obtain grants and funding every two years. The counts that were originally scheduled for January 2021 and January 2022 were delayed twice due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

The HUD released its 2021 Annual Homeless assessment on Feb. 4. The report revealed that more than 326,000 individuals experienced homelessness in 2021. However, these numbers only account for individuals that stayed at shelter locations. 

The Orange County count of homeless individuals residing in shelters began on Feb. 21 and was overseen by the county and its nonprofit partner, City Net. The count for individuals not residing in shelters began on Feb. 22. Trained volunteers and employees are visiting areas where people are known to reside and checking surrounding areas to tally the numbers. OC officials predict a 10% change in the count, though the exact number will be difficult to predict and determine. 

“I don’t think anybody really knows what the count is going to look like,” Father Dennis Kriz, a homeless advocate at Fullerton’s St. Philip Benizi Church, said.

The number of deaths among homeless individuals has increased as well. At least 386 people died in OC streets between Dec. 1, 2020 and Nov. 30, 2021, according to Kriz. 46 deaths have already been recorded as of January 2022.

A new court-ordered program aiming to help treat mental disorders and drug addiction while aiding homeless individuals into housing was proposed on March 3 by state public health officials from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office.  

Known as CARE Court, the plan will help treat mental health disorders and aid in drug rehabilitation. The individuals referred to a specific program will have the opportunity to be involved in structuring their own recovery plan. 

As stated by officials, those involved in the program will be represented by court-appointed lawyers. 

The proposal has not yet been taken to the state legislature, though changes can be made once it does. The proposal may take effect as early as July 1, as stated by Jason Elliot, a senior counselor to Newsom, on Thursday, March 3 in a news briefing. 

The lack of affordable housing for these individuals remains a primary concern. 

“Across the state and the county, we are seeing encampments that need to be cleared, we are struggling to provide housing for people,” Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said

Officials hope that CARE Court can be the first step to finding a solution, keep individuals off the streets and lower death rates. 

“If we can prevent someone from dying on the street, that’s the most important outcome. So that’s really what we’re trying to do here,” Elliot said. 

Alexia Hawley is a City News Intern for the winter 2022 quarter. She can be reached at adhawley@uci.edu.