Number of Sonoma County homeless families drops by 20% in count

The number of homeless families with children in Sonoma County has declined by 20 percent from 2011 to 2013, according to preliminary results from the latest county-wide homeless count.

Conducted every two year, the count also found that the overall homeless population declined by 6 percent from 4,539 to 4,280 people -- although the change is within the margin of error. The results of the count, which was conducted on Jan. 25, will be presented to the Board of Supervisors today.

The drop in the number of families was good news to those who conducted the count.

"It's huge. It's great. For a long time our providers have agreed that this was a high priority. People have been working very hard" trying to keep families from becoming homeless, said Jenny Abramson, coordinator of the Sonoma County Continuum of Care, a broad-based coalition of county agencies, local organizations and individuals responsible for the biennial homeless count.

Abramson said the decline in homeless families with children was likely a result of the federal Rapid Rehousing Program, an initiative that provides an injection of case management and rental assistance to quickly get families off the street or to escape homelessness altogether.

It keeps families from becoming "acculturated" to living in emergency shelters, cars, or in someone's living room or garage, Abramson said, adding that it also saves money.

"It's on the order of a few hundred dollars a month," while the "actual cost of keeping that family in shelter is much more," she said.

The total number of homeless individuals in families was 451, or 11 percent of the total homeless population. Well over half, 260, are children.

This year's count included a more accurate tally of homeless teenagers and young adults under 25. This includes 277 unaccompanied teenagers under 18 and 851 young people between 18 and 24.

Combined with the 260 homeless children who were part of families, nearly one in three homeless people in Sonoma County are under 25.

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