A Hispanic man stands in front of a makeshift shelter made with chain-link fencing, wood and tarps.

Homelessness in Contra Costa County Jumps Nearly 35% Since 2019

A Hispanic man stands in front of a makeshift shelter made with chain-link fencing, wood and tarps.

Jaime Rodriguez has lived in this makeshift shelter on the Richmond Greenway Trail for two years. (Denis Perez-Bravo / The CC Pulse)

By Tony Hicks
Bay City News Foundation

There are nearly 35% more homeless people in Contra Costa County than three years ago, according to an annual survey of homelessness, which county officials say underscores a severe shortage of affordable housing and the impacts of the pandemic on the community.

The county has added 30% more shelter beds since 2019, Contra Costa Health Services said in a statement, including the 172-room Delta Landing interim housing center in Pittsburg, one of the first projects completed through the state’s Project Homekey program.

The county counted 2,295 homeless people in 2019. That rose to 3,093 this year, a 34.8% increase. The number includes both people in shelters and sleeping outdoors.

“Contra Costa is using every available resource to address the need for both interim and permanent housing. But the housing crisis has only gotten worse during the pandemic, both here and across the state,” said Karen Mitchoff, chairperson of the county Board of Supervisors. “We do not need a survey to know that more county residents are living on our streets.”

>>>Read: Unhoused Narratives: Hoping for Better Days

Contra Costa renters needed to earn $37.54 hourly to properly afford the county’s average asking rent of $1,952, according to a May 2021 report from California Housing Partnership, which also estimated an affordable housing shortfall of more than 27,000 units in the county compared to need.

Eviction moratoriums helped some residents remain housed during the pandemic as COVID-19 disrupted work for many.

“The county has worked hard to increase shelter beds and interim housing, providing housing vouchers and other resources to help people who lose their housing get back on their feet,” Supervisor John Gioia said. “What we need — and what we are working hard to bring about — is more permanent housing with supportive services which is priced within the economic reach of ordinary working people.”

>>>Read: ‘It’s Scary’: Unhoused Richmond Women on Life in the Pandemic

While 822 people who used county homeless services in 2021 reported finding permanent housing, 40% of affordable housing vouchers issued to county residents since 2020 have gone unused because holders couldn’t find housing they could afford — even with the voucher — or they couldn’t find a landlord who accepts housing vouchers.

Supervisors established the Local Housing Trust Fund to bring more affordable housing to Contra Costa, with $10 million from Measure X, the countywide sales tax that began in 2021. Measure X will contribute $12 million annually to the fund, administered by county agencies in part to support acquisition, construction, preservation, and rehabilitation of affordable housing in the county.

“The Local Housing Trust Fund is a powerful tool, but only one part of the solution,” Supervisor Diane Burgis said. “Creating more affordable housing to reduce homelessness requires time, funding and a sustained commitment from everyone — state, federal and county government, not to mention cities, voters and landlords.”

>>>Read: Q&A: ‘We Need to Now Build New Approaches to Homelessness’

The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development requires biennial counting for jurisdictions receiving funding for homeless services. Contra Costa County usually performs an annual count. No counts were held in the Bay Area in 2021 because of the pandemic.

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