San Bernardino County deals with rising homeless population, sees 23% increase in 2019

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (KABC) -- Homelessness is on the rise in Southern California, including in San Bernardino County.

From 2017 to 2018, nationwide numbers remained nearly flat and even dropped slightly statewide, but it jumped more than 13% in San Bernardino County last year.

This year, it's up more than 23%.

"We do have more homeless, and for obvious reasons. Out here on the West Coast, the climate is much better for the homeless population than it would be maybe in the Midwest in the wintertime," San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said.

McMahon said part of it might be in the numbers. He said technology is allowing them to conduct better counts these days.

He said the vast majority of the chronically homeless are addicted to drugs and changes to state law - decriminalizing many drug offenses - isn't helping.

"When possession of narcotics was a felony, and it could be diverted down to a misdemeanor if they participated in a program, now it's a misdemeanor to start with, so there's no incentive to participate in the program," he said.

McMahon said another growing subpopulation among the homeless is the mentally ill.

At the West Valley Detention Center, there's a wing dedicated to helping the mentally ill.

He said jail is not the answer.

"Long term I think we need to shore up and expand the state's mental health options, whether it be more state hospitals, whatever it might be to help with that population, because truly county jail is not where they need to be," McMahon said.

McMahon said the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Homeless Outreach and Proactive Enforcement Program, or HOPE team, has helped house more than 2,000 people over the past five years.

But he said another problem is that not everyone wants the help.

"Maybe they're not going to be interested in taking them the first time, or maybe not even the 10th time, but maybe by the time we contact them 20 or 30 times, they may be interested in changing or asking for a bit of help," McMahon said. "And, if we can get them that help and turn them around, I think we can accomplish some great things."
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