In San Diego County, where the February 2022 Point-in-Time Count found no less than 8,427 people experiencing homelessness — a 10% increase from 2020 — the issue has reached a tipping point, prompting the Board of Supervisors to declare it a public health crisis last week.
Making homelessness a top priority will allow the county chief administrative officer to work with city governments and the Regional Task Force on Homelessness on a regional approach to tackling the issue. It’s a problem so great that it prompted San Diego city and county elected officials to hold a joint meeting earlier this week (the first such meeting in decades) as the agencies aim for 10,000 subsidized units to be built on public land by 2030. In Imperial County, the situation is no different. The number of people experiencing homelessness is up over 400% since 2014. From 2019 to 2020, the county saw the numbers climb approximately 8%. Although the 2020 data are the most recent we have, the Imperial Valley Continuum of Care Council is expected to release the results of its 2022 Point-in-Time Count within the next few weeks.
Each day, your hospitals see this crisis first-hand. Because those experiencing homelessness often face long wait times for shelter beds, many use whatever resources are available, which often means a trip to the emergency department (ED) to obtain food, clothing, and more. Your teams of social workers, case managers, nurses, doctors, and more work tirelessly to meet the complex needs of those in our region who are experiencing homelessness. This includes employing comprehensive strategies to care for and safely discharge patients while addressing their complex social needs, helping connect them to community-based services, and more.
But despite the best efforts of all involved, the numbers are only growing. And it’s not just homelessness that leaders are contending with. It’s also a lack of affordable housing. While this has been a topic of discussion for decades, the crisis has only been exacerbated in recent years by the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing low wages relative to inflation, and skyrocketing housing prices.
The 2022 HASD&IC Community Health Needs Assessment identified homelessness and affordable housing as top concerns in San Diego County. For so many in this community, housing has become unattainable. And for those in both San Diego and Imperial counties, not being able to afford rent can eventually push people into homelessness. As a result, many people without stable housing face an increased risk of illness and injury and often seek shelter and services in the ED.
While the reasons for homelessness are varied, so are the solutions, which must include more than just hospitals. Civic leaders, elected officials, the business community, nonprofits, social service organizations, and more will all play a vital role in addressing this crisis.