The homeless population in Orange County grew by 5% during the past two years, as rising rents pushed more people into the streets, officials said Friday.
The biennial tally of homeless people during three days in January found that homeless families decreased by 14% while adults without shelter jumped by 13%.
The number of homeless veterans stayed about the same, as did the overall percentage of Orange County residents who lack housing — 0.14%, according to a presentation by the Orange County Commission to End Homelessness.
About half of the homeless were found in shelters and the rest were in tents, cars or on the streets.
The increase was smaller than the 12% hike reported for Los Angeles County in May. But Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties all reported declines in their homeless population since 2013.
Karen Williams, president of 2-1-1 Orange County, the nonprofit that managed the count, said the weather was one reason for the higher numbers this year. The 2013 tally probably undercounted the homeless population because rainy weather at the time would have driven more people indoors and made them less accessible to census takers, she said.
But the county’s housing market, one of the most expensive in the nation, was also a factor, Williams said.
“With the cost of apartments increasing, we are suspecting we have a growth area of people who are losing their apartments and sleeping in their cars,” she said.
Homeless advocates said the report underscored the need for Orange County to boost funding for affordable housing and for housing equipped with services for the mentally and physically disabled.
The county devotes less than 1% of its discretionary funding — which is projected to grow to $723 million next fiscal year from $672 million this year — to homeless services, according to Eve Garrow and Heather Maria Johnson of the Orange County office of the ACLU of Southern California.
“Orange County, being one of the most expensive and affluent communities in the country, really does have the resources to create the needed housing to end homelessness,” Johnson said. “The county just lacks the political will to spend the resources.”
Williams, however, said the county has made “tremendous progress” in tackling the issue.
She said officials, prompted by federal guidance, have shifted $733,000 from transitional housing to two programs designed to move the homeless into permanent housing as soon as possible and to provide support services for those with mental and physical disabilities. The county also recently won a $2.5-million federal housing grant.
All told, the funds will provide more than 200 permanent housing units with disability services, Williams said.
In addition, the county is also planning to construct a 200-bed emergency shelter in an Anaheim industrial area.
“The shift being made in the last year-and-a-half has been dramatic,” Williams said.
The homeless count was conducted by more than 800 volunteers deployed from Santa Ana, Huntington Beach, Irvine, San Clemente and Anaheim. It is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides $19.5 million in funding for Orange County homeless programs.