County, city launch joint effort to address homeless issue

Several hundred local residents packed Jensen Hall (standing room only) at the Lassen County Fairgrounds last Tuesday evening as the Lassen County Board of Supervisors and the Susanville City Council held a joint special meeting to address the homeless issue in the city and the county and to hear from their constituents.

Everyone in attendance who wanted to address the supervisors or the councilmembers had an opportunity to speak during the 3 ½ hour meeting, chaired by District 2 Supervisor David Teeter, who kept a close eye on the time allotted to every speaker.

A number of city and county officials reported on their particular parts of the puzzle, including the Point In Time survey that provides baseline data on the number of homeless in the county at the end of January, a report on possible financing for the project, and statements by the Lassen County Sheriff, the Susanville Chief of Police, Lassen County Counsel and the Lassen County District Attorney.

Before we as a community can tackle this problem, we need to recognize its depth, and some data already collected will help.                  Some in the community have suggested the number of homeless individuals has increased over the past year or so, and the county’s Point In Time numbers suggest they may be right.

In 2020 the county counted 121 homeless individuals (49 unsheltered and 72 sheltered). The county considers nearly half of those — 57 individuals — to be chronically homeless, that is, “An adult with a disabling condition or a family with at least one adult member with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for one year or more and/or has experienced four or more episodes of homelessness within the past three years.”

Eleven of those unsheltered were living in vehicles, seven were living in abandoned buildings and 20 were living outside. Twenty-nine of those considered sheltered were living in a motel with a voucher, 29 were living in an emergency shelter and 14 were living in transitional housing.

The numbers collected in 2019 were not included because in the report, there were differences in the data collection process. In 2018, the county counted 82 homeless individuals (39 unsheltered and 43 sheltered). In 2017 the county counted 102 homeless individuals (29 unsheltered and 73 sheltered).

Despite many comments to the contrary, it appears the majority of homeless in Lassen County have ties to the community.

According to the 2020 Point In time numbers, 35 of 121 homeless individuals grew up here; 40 have family here; three found affordable housing here; and seven have friends here.

The reported causes of homelessness were varied. Seventeen individuals were victims of domestic violence, 16 suffered from drug abuse, 16 suffered loss of employment, 15 suffered a family breakup, 13 suffered incarceration, 13 listed “other” as a reason, 10 suffered alcohol abuse, eight suffered relocation, seven suffered eviction, seven suffered mental health issues and seven suffered medical issues.

Twenty-nine reported a physical or other disability, 39 reported mental illness, 32 reported substance abuse and 18 reported alcoholism.

Twenty-one of those contacted were under 18; 13 were between the ages of 18 and 24 and 85 were older than 25.

We surely won’t find an answer to this problem overnight, but we’ve taken our first steps and our local government entities actively seek some solutions.