The numbers are in, and as expected Lodi saw a large increase in the local homeless population compared to 2017.

The San Joaquin County Continuum of Care recently released data collected from the January point-in-time count, with Lodi reporting 139 unsheltered homeless individuals. That’s nearly a 60% increase from 2017 when 88 individuals were counted.

Elsewhere in the county, Stockton’s homeless count soared from 311 to 921, Manteca rose from 78 to 218 and Tracy jumped from 90 to 155.

This year’s numbers were expected to be higher due to a more thorough counting process,

“In the past, we would announce the count and homeless individuals would voluntarily come to the (Lodi) Armory for the count,” said John Ledbetter, who serves on Lodi’s Committee on Homelessness

This year the Continuum of Care organized with community volunteers and sent out teams to areas that had been known to occupy unsheltered homeless people.

The volunteers interviewed the individuals and tracked their information with surveys, which were given to the Continuum of Care to help connect the homeless community with resources available to them.

John Mendelson, who chairs the Continuum of Care, said that what stood out this year was the unusual amount of employed individuals that were unsheltered. According to Mendelson, 37 percent of the unsheltered homeless in San Joaquin County had incomes but could not find affordable housing.

“The cost of living in California has outpaced individuals’ wages and their ability to stay in housing,” Mendelson said. “The people on the streets are not just the chronically homeless, or suffering from mental health issues, they’re also families with children, and people with jobs.”

The lack of affordable housing has made it difficult for people living on fixed incomes to find viable housing options. According to the 2019 report, 25 percent of the homeless population in the county are 55 years or older.

“There are various efforts underway for affordable housing for the homeless, one that is trying to go forward in Lodi,” Mendelson said.

The Continuum of Care is developing projects to get individuals off the streets and into permanent housing, including a 36-unit development for mentally ill residents who will receive services provided by San Joaquin County Behavioral Health Services, and a 49-unit development for veterans.

“Our goal is to expand our permanent housing, emergency shelters and expand homeless preventative efforts. Those are proposed solutions that will get people off the street in both the short and long term,” Mendelson said.

Mendelson believes that the issue of homelessness has been on the back burner for so long that many programs aimed at helping homeless communities lack the necessary resources to be effective.

However, due to the more precise count this year there the county will likely be eligible for more state and federal funding.

According to Lodi City Manager Steve Schwabauer, the city provides funding for the Salvation Army, Lodi House, community food banks, as well other city resources to combat homelessness.

“The higher count will help garner more resources for the county, which will help fund more programs that help chip away at this issue,” Schwabauer said.  

Even the prospect of more state and federal funding, Mendelson believes more immediate and assertive action comes from community support.

The Stockton City Council and the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors will hold a joint public meeting focused entirely on homelessness today at 6 p.m. at the County Administration Building located at 44 N. San Joaquin St.

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