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Citrus Heights claims it’s reduced homeless population by 76%. But has it?

A shopping cart and other belongings are shown outside a store on Sunrise Boulevard in January. // CH Sentinel

Sentinel staff report–
The City of Citrus Heights recently publicized a figure stating the homeless population is 76 percent lower than in 2017, but some residents question that claim.

When the city first posted on social media last month about the decreased homeless population, residents responding on Facebook largely questioned the accuracy of the claim and also wondered how the figure was determined.

The city’s December newsletter also reiterated the figure: “Since 2017, the homeless population has been reduced by 76% thanks to the CHPD Homeless Navigator Program in partnership with local groups like Homeless Assistance Resource Team (HART).”

Related: HART launches rotating winter shelter for Citrus Heights homeless

City spokeswoman Nichole Baxter told The Sentinel in an email on Monday the number is based on a county-wide “Point-in-Time” (PIT) count that found homeless individuals in Citrus Heights made up only 1 percent of the county homeless population, compared to 8 percent in 2017.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires a PIT count be conducted every two years for communities to be eligible for funding. The latest count, conducted in January 2019, found a 19 percent increase in the homeless population county-wide, but in Citrus Heights found only 45 homeless individuals — down from 188 found during the 2017 count. That adds up to a 76 percent drop.

Alfred Sanchez is one of the residents skeptical of claims found in the latest count. Sanchez regularly works with the homeless and is known as the “Citrus Heights Snack Man.” He disagrees with the numbers behind the latest count, but commends the city-funded Navigator and HART for “working tirelessly” to help the homeless.

Related: Meet the Citrus Heights ‘Snack Man’ who’s doing his part to help homeless

Sanchez, who estimated he sees daily about 25-30 homeless individuals in a three-mile radius along a stretch of Auburn Boulevard and Greenback Lane, said the PIT count finding of only 45 homeless individuals was “highly inaccurate” and “not even close.”

“If that’s true, then I know every homeless person in Citrus Heights,” he said. “And I don’t know every single person.”

Police Statistics
A month-long count of area homeless by the Citrus Heights Police Department each April found significantly different numbers than the PIT count. And for the past four years, police have reported relatively stable numbers of homeless in Citrus Heights, with the exception of 2017.

“Our homeless population throughout probably the last four or five surveys that we’ve done has stayed relatively consistent and we haven’t seen a huge spike,” a police spokeswoman said previously, responding to a question during a city Facebook live session in July about whether homelessness is increasing in Citrus Heights.

In 2016, the department found 192 homeless individuals in Citrus Heights, followed by a drop to 85 in 2017, and then 188 in 2018 and 163 last year.

Related: Here’s what the 2019 homeless count in Citrus Heights found

Sanchez called the numbers reported by police “more realistic” and said counts could likely vary significantly based on the time of month the count is conducted. He’s noticed fewer homeless individuals are on the streets after Social Security checks or other payments come in near the beginning of the month.

Citrus Heights Police Lt. Michael Wells said his department’s survey is a “best-estimate” that uses a different methodology than the PIT count. He said an exact count is impossible.

Related: Councilman proposes using ‘FEMA-type’ trailers for homeless in Citrus Heights

“The homeless population in any community is ever changing and fluid, as many homeless tend to migrate in and out of local jurisdictions, while some remain local for longer periods of time,” the lieutenant said in an email, when asked about the dip in the homeless count in 2017. “Because of the ebb-and-flow nature of the homeless, it would be impossible to obtain a precise or static number.”

Wells cites a key difference between the police department’s count and Sacramento County’s PIT count: The department conducts a more extensive month-long count each year, while the county-wide numbers are tallied every other year and are gathered over a period of just one or two days. The police count also seeks to find out if individuals are employed, have drug or alcohol addiction, and fit other criteria.

Asked whether police believe the county’s figure to be accurate, Wells said his department “cannot answer to the methodologies used in the Sacramento Steps Forward PIT count, which estimates the 76% reduction.”

Wells said the police department relies on its own count as a “base-line estimate” to allocate resources and balance the needs of enforcement and services. He noted the department’s count showed a decrease (12 percent) in its homeless count from 2018 to 2019.

Related: What does the Citrus Heights homeless navigator do?

Citrus Heights Police Chief Ronald Lawrence said in a statement that his department “absolutely could do more in Citrus Heights with additional resources, but we have done best we can with our current resources such as our Navigator program, Code Enforcement, and Problem Oriented Policing units.”

The Sentinel is awaiting a response from police as to whether a decrease in homeless-related calls has been observed since 2017.

Another count by the Citrus Heights Police Department will be conducted this April.

To see full results from the county-wide point-in-time count, click here. To see results of the police department’s 2019 count, see story: Here’s what the 2019 homeless count in Citrus Heights found

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