December 3, 2023

Homelessness is a growing issue in Riverside County, where the homeless population has increased 15% over the last two years, according to NBC Los Angeles. Help agencies host a yearly Point-In-Time (PIT) count of the homeless in the surrounding areas. A wide variety of nonprofits, churches, organizations and volunteers come together and spread out among the 28 cities within the county. It is designed to unite the community by improving the state of the county while simultaneously lending a hand to the public by providing easily accessible resources.

This year, it was held on Jan. 25 from 5:30-9:30 a.m. The purpose of the count is to be able to provide the necessary amount of help and need based on the number of homeless adults residing in the county.
Every year, the PIT count is held by order of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) since Riverside County currently receives funding from the Continuum of Care (CoC) program for its homeless. The CoC is the main corporation that provides resources for those struggling to find shelter in the community.

“I’m familiar with the PIT count,” said Philip Breitenbucher, professor of social work. “By getting an idea of how many homeless there are, that brings in resources to the county, meaning funding. Often bringing people in, they’re really surprised at the amount living out unsheltered. So, it brings humanity to the issue. It may even inspire others to serve and volunteer more in the future.”

There are many reasons why providing resources is an important issue for the county. The most prominent one is health concerns.

“Homelessness is a public health issue,” said Dr. Kendra Flores-Carter, professor of social work. “It is important for us to see it through this lens because only then will we be able to truly address the seriousness of this problem within our community.”

Other organizations that take part in aid for the homeless in Riverside County include Housing First and Home Connect. These organizations work specifically to provide permanent housing to those struggling with homelessness and provide them with an overall improved quality of life. The most difficult part of dealing with this complex social issue is often knowing what programs to begin with, as there are a wide variety of programs involved in addressing concerns. Some people experiencing homelessness do not even know who they can reach out to or where to start. The stigma around it also adds to the lack of awareness of these types of programs.

“Implementing the housing-first model correctly should be a priority for organizations,” Carter said. “Many organizations report that they are using the housing-first model but are only creating temporary shelters instead of permanent housing for homeless people. There is a significant flaw in how the housing-first model is implemented within some organizations. Programs like Home Connect and the Homeless Partnership program are a good start for those who are experiencing homelessness.”

There are many steps involved in helping people secure housing. By providing shelter first, program leaders will better understand the forms of assistance that work best for those in need. With shelter, the most obvious issue at hand is taken care of, then more help can be offered depending on each person’s situation to ensure they stay off the streets.

“I do think homeless people are misunderstood,” said Janette Sanchez, graduate student of social work. “I think a lot of times people see homeless people and they have the mentality where it’s their fault they’re in that situation. In the U.S. in particular, most people are one paycheck away from homelessness. If they lose their job they have nowhere to go. It just becomes this cyclical thing, where people are just being criminalized and they can’t get out of it.”

Every year, the city needs volunteers to help the Riverside community become a place where no people have to live on the streets so that resources can be directly brought to those in need.

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