Rise in Latinx and Hispanic Homelessness

Rise in Latinx and Hispanic Homelessness Overall: 

Despite the significant decrease in the overall number of people experiencing homelessness in Santa Cruz County, the local 2023 Point In Time (PIT) Census, and the national 2022 PIT Count, both revealed a dramatic increase in homelessness among Latinx and Hispanic individuals. The PIT Count is the homeless census mandated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to capture the number of people experiencing homelessness in each region. The Santa Cruz County 2023 PIT Count report revealed that about 1,800 individuals are experiencing homelessness in our community, which is the lowest number of unhoused people in the county since the PIT Count process began back in 20113. With the overall population of people experiencing homelessness notably dropping and significant declines in veteran homelessness, we can see that our efforts to end homelessness are making an impact. Despite these successes, the National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that recent Point-in-Time counts across the nation have revealed a steep rise in homelessness among Latinx individuals in the United States. This same increase can be seen in Santa Cruz County.

Rise Locally: 

The Santa Cruz population is predominantly white, with 56% of the population identifying as white alone for their race and ethnic origin. 35% of the population in Santa Cruz County identifies as Latinx or Hispanic1. The 2023 PIT Count showed 44% of people experiencing homelessness identify as Latinx or Hispanic (2023 PIT Count). Thus, despite our county being primarily white, Latinx or Hispanic individuals constitute nearly half of the total homeless population.  

Further, this year, the PIT Count demonstrated that there was a 15% increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness in Watsonville. 84% of Watsonville residents identify as Latinx or Hispanic, meaning that the rise in homelessness in Watsonville demonstrates a rise in homelessness for the Latinx and Hispanic population in Santa Cruz County overall. Thus, along with national trends, we can see Santa Cruz County’s unhoused population becoming increasingly Latinx and Hispanic. This disproportionate amount of Latinx and Hispanic individuals comprising the homeless population here in Santa Cruz County is cause for concern. 

Causes of Latinx Homelessness Nationally: 

The report “Increasing Latino Homelessness—What’s Happening, Why, and What to Do About It” from the National Alliance to End Homelessness analyzes data from the 2022 PIT Count, examines the factors leading to an increase in Latinx homelessness and looks toward policy solutions at the federal and local levels. For the past few years, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated the already present socioeconomic inequalities in our nation, resulting in rising rates of homelessness. Marginalized communities, such as brown and black communities, are already subjected to a higher likelihood of experiencing homelessness due to systemic challenges, housing discrimination, and many other obstacles. The pandemic’s profound impact on housing stability among Latinx and Hispanic communities is evident, as more individuals from this demographic are facing unsafe living conditions and seeking homeless services than ever before.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ report, Latinx homelessness increased for a variety of reasons. First, the data reflects that these populations experience poverty at higher rates than other groups. The 2019 data shows that the poverty rate for this demographic has been more than double the poverty rate for non-Latinx or Hispanic and White households1. This means that Latinx or Hispanic populations are more likely to face difficulties due to a lack of affordable housing, low incomes, and weak tenant rights. In addition, many Latinx or Hispanic individuals in the United States are recent immigrants, and immigration status challenges impact rates of homelessness as well1. Furthermore, language barriers and cultural representation challenges create barriers within homeless service delivery systems, meaning it is more difficult to provide aid and services to this population1

Causes of Latinx and Hispanic Homelessness Locally: 

In Santa Cruz County specifically, Dr. Robert Ratner, Director of the Santa Cruz Housing for Health Partnership, reflected on the national and local trends in a recent conversation with Santa Cruz Local. Reporter Stephen Baxter spoke with Dr. Ratner in August of 2023 to hear his thoughts on the PIT Count data. Dr. Ratner remarked that the Pajaro levee break, resulting in severe floods this past winter, surely played a role in increasing South County, and thus overall Santa Cruz County Latinx and Hispanic homelessness. This environmental crisis revealed South County’s vulnerability, demonstrating the population’s potential to fall into unsafe and inhuman conditions in the face of disruptive events. The lack of support systems in place to respond to the Pajaro levee break and subsequent flood, are reasons for pause: The South County flooding, partnered with rapidly increasing costs of living, contributed to an uptick in homelessness for this majority Latinx and Hispanic area. 

In addition, Dr. Ratner drew connections between the rising number of unhoused children and students, and the rise in Latinx and Hispanic homelessness. The 2023 PIT Count reported more homeless families with children than the previous year’s, with 76 households experiencing homelessness. While this research does not provide the causes for these increases, Dr. Ratner speculates that “these increases overlap with the increased rates of homelessness among the Latinx and Hispanic community”3. The Pajaro Valley Unified School District is the largest in the county, with the most unhoused students and students facing housing instability. 

What Can We Do?

While the overall decrease in the homeless census in Santa Cruz is surely something to celebrate, we must pay careful attention to the inequity that is present in our county. When you look a little closer into national and local homelessness data, you will see a stark racial disparity. The rise in national and local Latinx and Hispanic homelessness is a crisis that demands our collective attention and action. 

To address the rise in Latinx and Hispanic homelessness, we need federal, state and local policy reform and concentrated action toward resolving this crisis. The National Alliance to End Homelessness writes about effective actions that address Latinx and Hispanic homelessness, including immigration policy reform, investment in affordable housing, improving availability of data,  and resolving barriers to services, including language barriers. Funding and supporting dedicated research that focuses on this demographic of homelessness, as well as considering the nature of data collection in the PIT Count, will provide the necessary information to tackle this issue. 

In Watsonville and South County, organizations such as Pajaro Valley Shelter Services, Families in Transition (FIT), the Community Action Board (CAB), and Housing Matters work to provide services to individuals and families experiencing homelessness. By providing case management, temporary shelter options and support acquiring stable housing, these organizations aim to move the needle on local homelessness. In addition, the city of Watsonville has implemented an “Affordable Housing Ordinance,” which requires that most new housing developments must include affordable units that are accessible to low income households6

Further, new projects are emerging in South county to provide more shelter and affordable housing options for those experiencing homelessness in Watsonville. We look forward to seeing the impact of these new shelter options and affordable housing developments on our community. 

It is essential to provide a platform for Latinx and Hispanic voices in local discussions about homelessness. Listening to the voices of currently or formerly unhoused people is crucial to develop effective solutions.



2[LIST_EMAIL_ID Dr. Melissa Chinchilla1: Assistant Project Scientist, Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences, David Geffen, School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles Investigator, VISN 22 Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Center and VA Health Services Research & Development Los Angeles Center of Innovation (COIN). Joy Moses: Vice President of Research and Evidence, National Alliance to End Homelessness Alex Visotzky: Senior California Policy Fellow, National Alliance to End Homelessness