The Problem with
San Diego had the nation’s fourth-highest homeless population in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The official count of 8,576 homeless residents across San Diego County comes from a Point-in-Time (PIT) count, which takes place over a three-hour span during a single night in January. This exercise is perennially skewed for many reasons. County officials and homeless advocates told KPBS that they believed the actual homeless population could be as high as 9,220.
Measurement and margin of error aside, the PIT number-crunches humans into statistics. In turn, the proposed solutions—such as San Diego’s morning police sweeps—only address the homeless population as a whole, further stigmatizing what it means to be “unsheltered.”
“I was ignorant to this until it happened to me,” one participant at Rachel’s says.
She did not want to be named or photographed. “Even friends will treat you as if you have a disease called homelessness and if they get too close, they’ll get it, too. It’s humiliating. Hu-mil-i-a-ting.”
The woman, much like Mrs. P., doesn’t fit the homeless stereotype. She is well-dressed and well-spoken. She says California has roughly half of the country’s homeless—and she’s right. A recent report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers estimates 47 percent of all homeless people sleeping in areas not intended for human habitation are in California.
She suggests that many people are potentially just one paycheck away from being on the streets. Again, she’s right. A study by NORC at the University of Chicago found that 51 percent of working adults in the U.S. would need to access savings to cover necessities if they missed more than one paycheck.
“And just because you’re homeless, doesn’t mean you’re a drug addict or alcoholic,” she adds. Correct again. Most research suggests that just 25 to 40 percent of homeless individuals have a drug or alcohol addiction. For every homeless person you see on the street suffering from addiction, there are one, two, maybe even three others who are sober.