Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

The good news is that the number of homeless people counted in the South Coast on February 23 was down from two years ago. The bad news is that the number of homeless persons counted this year was 1,962. That’s up by 65 from 1,897 the year before that. The number of people counted while staying in shelters (595) dropped by 79 from the year before, while the number of people living in cars or on the streets (1,367) jumped by 144. What all this means — and if it means anything — will likely be debated endlessly between now and the next counting a year from now. 

That there were fewer people staying in shelters should come as little surprise given the COVID-induced social-distancing requirements that applied when the count took place. Some say the drop in South Coast cases reflects the massive infusion of resources for outreach, case management, and low-income housing vouchers that poured into the county as part of various state and federal programs. Others suggest it might be better explained by how cold it was the day of the count. Perhaps the most curious wrinkle was the significant drop in Goleta numbers — from 166 to 91 — and the sharp increase in Isla Vista’s, from 69 to 112.

In the past year, Isla Vista saw the development of a temporary tiny-home village — 20 homes — and the creation of the new Hedges House of Hope homeless shelter; these replaced the sprawling encampment seen throughout many Isla Vista parks. Likewise, Isla Vista witnessed a significant emergence of car camping among housing-challenged UCSB students. Countywide, 34 percent of the homeless persons counted were living in cars. 

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