Homelessness in west county shows drop

But numbers increase across Sonoma County

Tim Miller, executive director of West County Community Services, said he was honestly surprised the 2018 homeless count wasn’t higher.

WCCS, Guerneville’s nonprofit social services agency, administers many of the river’s homeless programs, including the winter shelter in the Guerneville Vets Hall.

Miller said there was a 20 percent increase at the winter shelter, but the overall numbers in Sebastopol and unincorporated west county decreased. According to statistics from the homeless count conducted last February, the west county homeless population fell from 319 in 2017 to 283 this year.

Miller said he believes that the decrease was in part because of the work of the Homeless Task Force, support from Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins and the WCCS Rapid Response Team.

Although west county saw a slight decrease, data from the homeless count shows homelessness is once again on the rise in Sonoma County.

According to the county’s 2018 point-in-time count, the homeless population increased by six percent leaving 161 additional people to sleep on the streets, in vehicles, in encampments, in abandoned buildings or in shelters.

Sonoma County Community Development Commission officials expect the county’s numbers to continue to increase.

“We anticipate a wave of more homeless populations,” said Felicity Gasser,  the commission’s policy and communications liaison.

In order to have more access to state resources, the county Board of Supervisors declared  a “homeless state of emergency” at the request of the CDC during a July 10 meeting.

Gasser said she anticipates the state of emergency will help the county access approximately $12 million in one-time funds.

“While some of this will go into augmenting emergency shelter and assistance programs, we hope that much of these resources will be directed into building more permanent, supportive housing, as the lack of access to affordable and stable homes is the most prevalent cause of homelessness in our community,” she said.


The annual “homeless count” is required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the county to be eligible for $3.4 million dollars in annual homeless services funding.

Statistics on the homeless population are gathered through the annual county point-in-time count handled by the Community Development Commission.

The 2018 Sonoma Homeless Point-in-Time Census and Survey was done in collaboration with Applied Survey Research, a social research firm that has worked with the county on its point-in-time counts since 2009.

According to HUD standards, the definition of homelessness includes “individuals and families: living in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangement; or with a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, including a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport, or camping ground.”

A team comprised of 69 individuals with first-hand experience of homelessness, 108 community volunteers, staff from various city and county departments and law enforcement canvassed the entire county between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Feb. 23.

The survey placed teams on foot and in vehicles to locate people experiencing homelessness throughout city and rural areas of the county. Another way the data was gathered was through a follow-up survey administered to 519 unsheltered and sheltered homeless individuals to profile their experience and characteristics.

In addition a specialized count of unaccompanied children and transition-age youth under age 25 was conducted on the same day.


Gasser said for the first time the commission’s homeless count consultants conducted a telephone survey to learn about people who are living in unstable situations. The survey found that approximately 21,400 residents are living in unstable housing situations.

“These are people who are couch surfing or doubled up, or who have no lease,” she said. “The homeless count, along with the telephone survey, suggest a new wave of people are already becoming homeless as they exhaust their resources following the fires.”


Statistics from the homeless census and survey;

2,996 homeless people were found.

64 percent were unsheltered.

38 percent lived on the streets or in encampments, 24 percent in vehicles, and 4 percent in abandoned buildings.

56 percent were homeless for a year or more, 34 percent were homeless for one to 11 months, and 10 percent were homeless for 30 days or less.

35 percent were experiencing homelessness for the first time.

19 percent had experience in foster care.

34 percent reported physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

20 percent identified as LGBTQ

84 percent lived in Sonoma County before becoming homeless

72 percent cited affordable rent as the primary obstacle in obtaining permanent housing.

64 percent reported living with one or more health conditions.

The number of chronically homeless individuals increased from 598 in 2017 to 747  in 2018.


By far, the largest age group identified as homeless is in the 25 to 54 age range, making up 62 percent of the homeless population. Young adults age 18 to 24 represent 16 percent of the population followed closely by adults 55 and older at 14 percent. Youth under 18 make up 8 percent of the homeless population.

Men represent 58 percent of the homeless population, while women make up 39 percent. Transgender homeless make up 2 percent followed by nonconforming gender people who make up 1 percent.

A bulk of the homeless population, 62 percent, is made up of people who identify as white. The second largest group at 21 percent is multi-racial.