Homelessness on the rise in Placer County. Is lack of affordable housing to blame?

Volunteers counted 146 more people living homeless in Placer County this year compared to a similar census in 2015.

That translates to a 28 percent increase in the county’s homeless population during the past two years. But officials said the numbers may be misleading. The number of homeless people documented two years ago may have been artificially low because of an unanticipated staffing problem on the night of the count, said Leslie Brewer of the Homeless Resource Council of the Sierras.

The numbers come from a single “point in time” tally of homeless people counted by volunteers in late January. The biennial count, required for federal funding, provides a snapshot of life on the streets.

Volunteers this January counted 663 homeless people across Placer County, from Roseville to North Lake Tahoe, compared to 517 in 2015. In January 2013, the census documented 594 unsheltered people. Those counted were living outdoors, in cars, in emergency shelters and in motels that serve as transitional housing for homeless men, women and children.

Brewer said the percentage increase in homeless people per 100,000 residents in the county has held steady since 2007. The county’s total population has grown by more than 50,000 people since then, and its rate of homeless residents ranged between 134 and 176 people per 100,000 residents. The rate is about half that of the state average, said Brewer.

A lack of affordable housing likely has forced some people onto the streets in Placer County, she said. Sacramento County officials cited the same issue as a key reason that homelessness increased by 30 percent in the Sacramento area based on this year’s census.

Compared to the 2015 census, the most notable increase of homeless people this year in Placer occurred in the western portion of the county, which includes Roseville, according to the report. Volunteers counted 166 homeless people in the Roseville area in 2015, and 343 this year. Brewer said the jump may be the result of the fact that a key census taker for that area became ill on the day of the 2015 count and was unable to participate.

Eastern Placer County, which includes Auburn, saw a decline in its homeless residents compared to 2015, from 339 people to 299. Twelve people were counted as homeless in North Lake Tahoe in 2015, compared to 21 this year.

Of the 663 people documented as homeless this year, nearly 17 percent were labeled “chronically” without shelter. Seven percent of those counted were veterans. Nearly 39 percent had a serious mental illness, and 41 percent were substance abusers.

Cynthia Hubert: 916-321-1082, @Cynthia_Hubert

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