Gilliland: Temecula’s progress with homeless skewed by PIT count numbers

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Temecula sheriff’s deputies interview a number of homeless individuals at an encampment in the hills west of Temecula near Rancho California Road. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Lost amongst the worldwide coronavirus pandemic and protests lamenting the death of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter movement was the release of Riverside County’s Homeless Point-in-Time Count results.

Countywide, there was a 3% increase in homeless individuals, a total of 2,884 with 2,155 unsheltered and 729 sheltered.

The count, conducted over four hours Jan. 29, by teams of volunteers and city and county officials, is conducted each year to gauge the progress of groups that work exclusively with the homeless population.

But as Robin Gilliland, homeless outreach administrator for the city of Temecula said, the numbers can be misleading.

“As you know, the point-in-time count is just a snapshot,” she said. “It’s a four-hour snapshot, so, it’s never completely accurate, but my initial response is the number’s too high.”

The number that Gilliland is referring to is the total number of homeless individuals counted during the point-in-time count which indicated that there were 59 unsheltered individuals, a total that included the 13 people that were observed but not interviewed. There were 14 people considered chronically homeless of the 46 people that were interviewed during the count.

Gilliland said she still thinks the total number was too high. She even called around to all the team leaders to make sure that they didn’t double count some of the people.

She said the city’s Homeless Outreach Team and outreach workers had prepared the homeless population for the count.

“The previous four to six weeks the HOT deputies, the outreach workers and myself were out there preparing everybody for it because what we find in the past is that if we don’t give those individuals that are living on the streets a heads up, they think we’re doing some sort of sweep,” she said. “So we started going out and telling them ahead of time, ‘We’re coming out on this morning. We’re not arresting anybody; nobody’s in trouble.’ We started so that we could get a more accurate count, so people don’t hide.”

Gilliland said they were optimistic about predictions that they would have fewer numbers this year.

“We were like, ‘Oh, wow, we’re going to be down this year,’” she said. “This is going to be a positive year. That’s based on this is my sixth (PIT count) and just being out there that day as well. I just felt like that number was high.”

Gilliland said she was surprised by the high number for Temecula, considering Murrieta had 18 homeless, and Menifee 19 homeless individuals counted.

“My next red flag, to be totally honest, was that our number was exactly the same as 2019,” she said. “And the number of males was exactly the same. The statistical probability of that must be zero.”

Gilliland said she was also surprised by the count that indicated there were 19 new homeless in Temecula.

“In all fairness to the system and the methodology, it is self-reported, so these individuals could say, ‘Yeah, I’m brand-new here,’” she said. “They could have been here for 10 years and on the survey, we have to put that they are new. We really struggled with that as well. As you know, Deputy Johnson, this was the last thing he did before he left the team. We both just kept scratching our heads and didn’t understand where all the data came from.”

Homeless individuals reporting substance abuse was 22, 14 said they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, 10 more reported mental health conditions, five said they had a physical disability, five more said they had a developmental disability, six reported a brain injury and two said they were victims of domestic abuse.

There were seven veterans counted in Temecula and two senior citizens.

When asked whether the PIT count could affect funding for the city’s HOT program, Gilliland said she didn’t think so.

“Very little impact honestly to Temecula,” she said. “The whole idea behind the count is it’s connected to funding for the county. We’re trying to get them to sort of change their stance on that. If a county is finding a lower number, its funding could potentially get cut. With our continuum of care and our board of governance, which I sit on, we sent a letter to HUD saying, wait a minute, if our numbers are going down, we’re doing something right. How about you continue to fund us instead of taking the funding away.

“There’s obviously dollars attached to it, but as far as locally, as I said, we know it’s a snapshot in time. We know that that’s not ever the accurate number.”

To see more of the PIT count and the results for each city, visit http://rchi.cs.ucr.edu/CityBreakdown.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.