Survey finds 29% drop in Sacramento County’s homeless population, following years of growth

(From left) Volunteers Johnny Wong and Sarah Danon interview Alicia Garcia and Robert Penn, who both live under the Howe Avenue bridge, during the Point-in-Time count of people experiencing homelessness in Sacramento Jan. 24, 2024.

By Chris Nichols

Rows of RVs, tent encampments and other make-shift homes still line Sacramento County’s streets and sidewalks, as they have for years. But progress on the region’s vexing homelessness crisis is underway, according to a closely-watched report released on Wednesday.

The county’s unhoused population dropped 29% over the past two years — to an estimated 6,615 people, breaking a trend of surging homelessness numbers, according to the 2024 Point In Time Count

It’s one of the largest reductions in homelessness statewide after Sacramento County made headlines two years ago for one of the biggest increases, a 67% spike compared with its 2019 survey.

This year’s report found a 41% drop in “unsheltered” individuals, or people on the street, in vehicles and abandoned buildings. That reduction was larger than the overall population decline. 

Sacramento city and county officials celebrated the findings, though they stressed more work must be done. They credited state and local investments in permanent housing, expanded shelter capacity and greater homeless outreach for the success. 

“This is not a declaration of victory in any way because there are still too many people on our streets,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said on CapRadio’s Insight with Vicki Gonzalez on Wednesday. “But it shows that the issue is moving in the right direction.” 

Following the report’s release, one prominent homeless services group said the dramatic improvement “is incredibly difficult to believe,” given what they see everyday. 

Sacramento Loaves & Fishes said in a written statement it “does not have data to support such an extreme decline; these numbers are incredibly difficult to believe and further highlight the trust issues with local government that our guests have consistently expressed over our many years of service.” 

The nonprofit center serves hundreds of unhoused residents each day in the River District north of downtown.

Communities across the nation conduct the federally-required Point In Time Count. The findings help determine federal and state funding for homeless shelters and services. In Sacramento County, the survey is conducted every two years. 

Officials with Sacramento Steps Forward, the agency that coordinates the survey, acknowledged the findings represent an undercount of the overall homeless population. Even so, they defended the count’s methodology as sound. 

Lisa Bates, the group’s CEO, said this year’s survey was conducted in the same fashion as previous counts, though it included about 100 more volunteers. 

She said approximately 600 volunteers took part in the survey conducted in neighborhoods countywide in January.

‘We need to sustain it’

Bob Erlenbusch is an advocate for Sacramento’s unhoused community and serves on the board of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness.  

He said credit for the reduction should go to state programs like Project Roomkey and Homekey, which have sheltered and housed thousands of Sacramentans and people across California over the past four years. 

But he warned that state and local budget shortfalls could wipe away progress. 

“Those numbers [in the Point In Time Count] show that those investments work. But we need to sustain it. And it doesn’t appear that we’re going to,” Erlenbusch said. 

He cited Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposal to cut $1 billion dollars in local homelessness funding to close the state’s budget shortfall, which has been estimated between $38 billion and $73 billion.

Erlenbusch added the city of Sacramento faces its own $58.6 million budget deficit

Sacramento County’s decline follows a drop in homeless populations in nearby counties, officials said. A combined count last year in Yuba and Sutter counties found a 10% drop from 2023 to 2022 while other recent counts showed a 6% decrease in Placer County and a 2% decrease in Nevada County. San Francisco also saw a recent 7% decline.

Meanwhile, in San Joaquin County, the opposite took place. The county recorded a 160% increase in its homeless population over the past two years to more than 4,700 people, according to a report released last week.

Contact CapRadio news reporter Chris Nichols at  

This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and the James B. McClatchy Foundation. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.

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