by Mike Johnson, Ventura City Council District 3
Every year, cities and counties across the US count their unsheltered residents and report the data to the federal government. The snapshot census results help determine crucial state and federal funding for local programs. The next count is coming up, and the County’s Continuum of Care needs volunteers.
The count will take place Wednesday, February 23, from 6am to noon. Volunteers will serve at least one two-hour shift.
Volunteers will be trained in mid-February. They’ll be partnered up and assigned a specific area to canvass, using a cell phone or tablet to collect survey data. Volunteers need to be 18, and able to walk for a couple hours. Learn more or sign up at http://MikeForVentura.com.
Some of the most valuable data is about the subpopulations, grouped by age, race, ethnicity, or gender. If comfortable, canvassers also ask survey questions to learn more about the person they’re interviewing, and the problems they face.
For example, the community-minded volunteers in 2020 were able to conduct 269 surveys in Ventura. 38 respondents were current or former foster youth; 59 had pets; 29 were fleeing violence or sexual assault. 10 were retired; 54 had been homeless for less than a year; 20 had lost their home to a wildfire or natural disaster. 86 had been in custody during the past twelve months. 19 were veterans.
Knowing this data also helps the city and county better understand the problems we’re working to solve. Comparing data across the county allows the county to shift resources to be most effective. Tracking the data year after year lets us see trends, so we can work proactively. This data also helps us access federal and state grant funding to address homelessness.
In 2020, Ventura’s homeless population – sheltered, unsheltered, or in transitional housing – was 531. We all know the real number is higher – it’s not easy finding every unsheltered person in the city on one winter morning. But by performing the count year after year, we see the trends.
Our highest count was 701, in 2012. Then it dropped steadily until 2016, when we hit 300, our lowest recorded number. As everybody knows, homelessness has grown since then, and not just here. The increases since 2016 in both Ventura and Ventura County follow pretty closely the percentage increases across Los Angeles County.
The city has partnered with the county to address homelessness, because regional problems require regional solutions. The recently completed ARCH shelter is funded 50-50 by the city and the county. So are two social workers who perform street outreach within the city and connect people experiencing homelessness to local resources for housing and shelter. Our partnership with the County’s Continuum of Care has been invaluable.
We have to do more, in Ventura, in the County, in the state. The housing market is in crisis after decades of building very little new housing to accommodate population growth. The best predictor of homelessness in a city our size is median rent, and rent’s ridiculously high in Ventura. The ranks of unsheltered residents are swelling with people who’ve never experienced homelessness before.
Every unhoused person’s path is unique, but illness, disability, substance abuse, trauma and poverty can all push a person into homelessness. Once someone is unsheltered, those problems can get worse. Some people aren’t sick, traumatized, or abusing drugs until after they’ve had to live unsheltered.
In Ventura, with public and non-profit services, we have programs for those who have turned down shelter and services before. We have programs for those who are looking for a dry bed on a rainy night, or a bed of their own. We have programs to help veterans, families, women fleeing abuse, pet owners. We have programs to help people who are on the cusp of losing their home. Call 2-1-1 to connect to services.
We are also committed to adding new housing, both affordable and market rate, to help get California back on track. It will take governments and nonprofits and churches and civic-minded folks working together to find solutions to the many problems that contribute to homelessness. We need your help.