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SANDAG Study Finds Homelessness on the Rise Among San Diego Arrestees in 2018

77 Percent Became Homeless for the First Time in San Diego County

October 17, 2019-- The percent of arrestees who have experienced homelessness continued to increase in 2018, according to a report released by the SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Division on Thursday. About 3 in 4 of arrestees who were ever homeless said they first became homeless in San Diego County.

The SANDAG brief, SANDAG CJ Flash: Homelessness Among Justice System-Involved Individuals in San Diego County, found that more than one in three arrestees surveyed described themselves as primarily homeless in the 30 days prior to being booked into jail.  The SANDAG brief also found that two in three surveyed said they had ever experienced homelessness. These numbers continue to rise year after year. In a 2007 report, 50% of arrestees reported ever experiencing homelessness, compared to 66% in 2018.
Other findings include:
•     Of the surveyed, 26 is the median age of those who experienced homelessness for the first time

•     Male arrestees with a history of homelessness reported more incidents of being homeless than their female arrestee counterparts

•     Males surveyed reported becoming homeless due to the loss of a job, while female arrestees were more likely attribute it to abuse or violence

•     Twenty-three percent of arrestees who reported being homeless in the past year thought they would still be homeless a year from now
     o     58% because they couldn’t afford housing
     o     42% because they liked living on the street

•     Fewer than one in five of those who reported being homeless in the past 12 months stayed in a shelter. Reasons shared for not staying in a shelter included restrictions at the shelter, safety concerns, wait lists, and inability to bring others.

•     Of those surveyed, homelessness was most often reported by arrestees positive for meth, those with a mental health diagnosis, and those not employed at the time of their arrest.

•     Arrestees with a history of homelessness were more likely to report a history of injecting drugs and overdosing, compared to arrestees who did not report a history of homelessness.

“These data clearly show us that an increasing number of individuals in our justice system have housing instability, which is often related to mental health issues and substance abuse,” said SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Director Dr. Cynthia Burke. “A multi-tiered and collaborative approach will be needed to address the concerns of our community related to homelessness and the underlying needs of these individuals.”

The Applied Research Division of SANDAG conducts annual interviews with juvenile and adult arrestees within 48 hours of booking into a local detention facility through a program called Substance Abuse Monitoring (SAM).

As part of these interviews, questions about drug-use history, risk-taking behavior, and a confidential and anonymous urine sample is provided as an objective measure of drug-use trends over time.

In response to the recent regional dialogue regarding homelessness, questions were added to the SAM interview in 2018 focusing on the history of homelessness.

Read the 3-page summary SANDAG CJ Flash: Homelessness Among Justice System-Involved Individuals in San Diego County.

Project Manager(s)

For media inquiries, please contact the SANDAG Public Information Office at (619) 699-1950 or