A fact that may be unknown to some, the homeless population in Davis is steadily increasing as the economy worsens.
A recent homeless census conducted by several local homeless service agencies indicated that the overall count of homeless individuals in Yolo County is up approximately 19 percent, an increase of 77 individuals since the last count in 2007.
The city of Davis experienced an increase of about 28 homeless people. West Sacramento’s numbers rose by 92, while the count in Woodland decreased by 36.
The Homeless Poverty Action Coalition of Yolo County is a collaborative body of public agencies and nonprofit organizations that coordinates various services to homeless and low-income individuals and families in Yolo County. They also helped conduct the census.
“All of the homeless service agencies [in the area] are experiencing an increase in the traditional homeless population,” said Janice Critchlow, the county’s homeless service coordinator. “I think we need a concerted effort [to deal with homelessness].”
Davis officials are aware of the increase in the homeless population and agree that it will be a challenge to the Davis community to alleviate it.
“Many of the homeless people we found actually grew up here in Davis or have lived here for several years,” said Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor, who participated in the effort to count the homeless in January. “Many suffer from mental illness and substance abuse.”
The challenging economic times may have also resulted in a changing demographic among the homeless population, Saylor said.
There are more young people than in the past, more families, and more people who have landed on hard times just because of the economy, he added.
The city of Davis continues to work with the homeless community, and provide as many services as possible.
“At this point, while there is an increase, the numbers are not overwhelming,” Saylor said. “I am very proud of the Davis community for stepping up to volunteer more cold weather shelter beds and other services to meet the needs of the increased homeless population.”
However, there is always tension between the homeless population of Davis and other Davis citizens, he said. The city will need to continue to work sensitively and carefully with conflict situations and recognize the needs of the entire community.
“Every homeless person has a story. They have families. They get cold and hungry. Many of them are tragically ill,” Saylor said. “As the economy continues to flail about and public funding sources have become less reliable, the numbers and needs of the homeless population may alert us to the needs of the broader community.”
One member of the Davis homeless community, Robert Sellman, shared that perspective.
“We’re all out here for individual reasons, and we need to address those reasons,” he said.
Sellman said he refers to the top three reasons for homelessness – substance abuse, psychological issues and general apathy toward life – as “the three stooges.”
Sellman, once a resident of Sacramento, said he was drawn to Davis because of its unique character.
“There was something here in Davis that was different from any other town,” Sellman said. “I can’t put my finger on it.”
Many Davis residents are very friendly and supportive of the homeless in town, Sellman said, and some have even become friends.
That attitude among local residents is probably what brings many other homeless people into town from other cities, he said.
Much of that support comes from Davis residents involved in the interfaith community.
The Davis Community Church, for example, has several programs that homeless individuals can rely on.
One program is a brown bag lunch program that operates for one hour per day during the week, said Reverend Bill Habicht of Davis Community Church. Everyone can access it – homeless, low-income families or even students.
“We also host a shelter for four weeks out of the year,” Habicht said. “[The shelter] rotates between congregations in town during the winter.”
Organizations like the Davis Community Church have been facing neighborhood opposition mainly regarding the concentration of homeless services in the area.
“St. Martin’s Church holds a meal [for the homeless], they are across the street from our congregation,” Habicht said. “There are five programs in the immediate community.”
Even those providing homeless services have noticed a change in the homeless community.
“I have seen a demographic change,” he said. “I think we are seeing less chronic homeless and more people who have lost their apartments or homes.”
Statistics show that approximately 60 to 75 percent of people who are homeless became homeless in the area where they reside, Habicht added. A lot of the homeless people in Davis grew up here, he said.
CAITLIN COBB can be reached at email@example.com. JEREMY OGUL contributed to this article.