The scourge of homelessness has gotten worse in San Bernardino County during the past year, according to a recent report, but new funding from the state is being designated to combat the problem.

An estimated 3,400 homeless individuals and families at imminent risk of homelessness will benefit from more than $6.6 million in state grant funding distributed on April 30 by the Board of Supervisors to 15 local agencies throughout the county.

An additional $2.3 million in grant funding will be distributed to seven additional local agencies in the near future, the county said in a news release.

The funds are a portion of nearly $9.4 million the county received from the $500 million Homeless Emergency Aid Program, or HEAP, block grant funding program created by the state last year.

The county will use more than $6.3 million to support homeless prevention and diversion programs, general homeless services, homeless outreach, reentry services, emergency shelter response, utility assistance, moving assistance, transportation services, document readiness, eviction services and housing search and stability. Almost $1.3 million will go toward rental subsidies. More than $1 million will be set aside specifically to assist homeless youth, and $213,000 will go toward shelter acquisition projects to serve the homeless.

In Fontana, Water of Life Community Church will receive $393,000 through the program. The church has partnered with the city for several years to help people in need.

Ending homelessness in the county is a priority for members of the Board of Supervisors, who created the San Bernardino County Homeless Partnership in 2007. In July 2016, the board launched an initiative to assist homeless veterans and since then has successfully housed 1,096 veterans. Since January 2017, 191 chronically homeless people with mental health issues have been housed.

----- THE NUMBER of homeless people in San Bernardino County increased by 23 percent over the past year, a new report said.

Fontana had 94 homeless persons, according to the results of the county’s Homeless Point-In-Time Count on Jan. 24.

The city of San Bernardino had 890 homeless people, while Victorville had 333 and Redlands had 183. Among the cities closest to Fontana, Rialto had 133 homeless people, Ontario had 128, and Rancho Cucamonga had 58.

A total of 2,607 homeless people were counted in the county this year, compared to 2,118 in 2018, and part of the reason for the large increase may have been because of a new data-collecting technology and targeted mapping were used in order to capture a more accurate number, the county said in a news release.

In past years, surveyors used pen, paper and a clipboard to capture the numbers, but this year, they used ESRI's Survey 123 for ArcGIS, a digital form that simplified the way surveyors entered information about the people they interviewed in the field, eliminating the need for surveyors to devote time and effort determining what questions to ask, the county said.

"Target mapping was instrumental in a more strategic use of manpower. The day of the count, volunteers were dispatched with maps of homeless encampments, which the County Sheriff's Homeless Outreach Proactive Enforcement (HOPE) Team had identified while assisting the homeless throughout the year. Then as the PITC Command Center received data from the field during the count it was instantly mapped allowing the immediate dispatch of back-up teams to assist in target areas needing more surveyors," the county said.

"The use of the ESRI app gives us a more realistic sense of the growing problem we are facing, making the 2019 Point-In-Time Count numbers the most accurate to date," said 5th District Supervisor Josie Gonzales, who is also chair of the Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH).

"Past reports enabled us to identify and successfully first address chronic homelessness among veterans, then unaccompanied women and families with children; the current report reveals a significant increase in homeless persons, age 55 and older," said Gonzales. "All these reports reveal our critical need for additional funding to enable the coordinated delivery of housing, physical and mental health, as well as other critical services, to get homeless individuals -- especially the most vulnerable members of our communities -- safely and permanently off the streets."

----- ANOTHER significant factor in the increase is the rising cost of housing, particularly for people on a fixed income. The numbers of adults on the street age 55 and older increased 71 percent from 246 people in 2018 to 422 people in 2019.

Fair market rent in the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metropolitan area is $926 a month for a one-bedroom unit, $1,156 a month for a two-bedroom unit, $1,618 for a three-bedroom unit and $2,004 for a four-bedroom unit, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Almost 19 percent of the 1,873 adults on the street counted this year became homeless for the first time in the last year. Nearly a quarter of adults living on the streets in the county -- 450 -- are unaccompanied women.

"This year's Point-In-Time Count data points to both a need to prioritize high risk homeless populations for housing and services, and a need for innovation," said Kent Paxton, chair of the ICH Point-In-Time Count Committee.

"Homeless seniors and those with critical health conditions are at highest risk to perish on our streets, need to take priority in our homeless outreach efforts. New outreach strategies, like the county's Department of Behavioral Health's InnROADs Program, which will provide health and mental health services in the field, in conjunction with the Sheriff's HOPE Team outreach efforts, will more quickly engage, treat, and provide housing for those high risk populations."

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