Volunteers conduct first in-person count of homeless population since 2020
Steve Wibben has watched the population of unhoused residents living on Palm Springs streets steadily increase since first landing here in 2005. Along with the increase he’s witnessed a rise in drug deals and other unwelcome behavior in his Baristo Park neighborhood. But when comments from a friend hit home, he knew the city was in crisis.
“I had a friend from San Francisco visit, and he said, ‘Wow, Palm Springs looks just like San Francisco.'”
On Wednesday, Wibben decided to help efforts to combat the crisis. He joined 75 volunteers and a dozen city and county staff as they fanned out throughout the city to conduct a count of those living on the streets. The effort was part of the Riverside County point-in-time homeless count, conducted in person again for the first time since 2020. An estimated 800 people took part throughout the county.
Armed with a clipboard, a map, and an app on their phones for conducting surveys, Wibben and a team of three others were the last of more than a half dozen teams to depart the Palm Springs Convention Center just after sunrise. His team’s destination was in South Palm Springs, where one of 30 areas known to contain clusters of homeless individuals had been identified in an earlier “soft count.”
Step by step on a rare cold and rainy morning the team explored an area identified as section 17 — roughly between Plaza del Sol and Baristo Road. The team peered behind bushes and dumpsters and inside drainage culverts, scoured vacant land and the front of businesses, ready to offer “incentive bags” filled with vital supplies to anyone who would agree to an interview.
After walking section 17 they headed off to other parts of town, having counted two homeless individuals sleeping at a bus stop, but evidence of many more. In total, the team spent 2.5 hours in four quadrants, observed 11 homeless individuals — including a pair living in a car — and conducted three interviews.
Exactly how many people experiencing homelessness were counted in Palm Springs Wednesday will not be know for a few months. During the 2020 count, 189 unsheltered people were counted in Palm Springs — about one-third of the number believed to be living on city streets.
Countywide, 2,884 homeless individuals — 729 who had shelter and 2,155 who did not — were identified in Riverside County during the 2020 count.
The 2021 homeless census was severely curtailed, with no real canvassing of known transient dwelling spaces, because of the coronavirus public health lockdowns last winter. Reports were mostly based on shelter interactions and did not provide an accurate representation of the county’s homeless population.
This year’s data, which will not be released for a few months, will be used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which requires the point-in-time count for Riverside County to continue receiving federal funding for homeless programs. It is used to determine how to distribute federal homeless relief funding, and by policymakers in determining the scope of homelessness nationwide — including what’s working, and what’s not.
While the larger countywide census was Wednesday, there will be ongoing surveys on today and Friday to better gauge youth homelessness, officials said. The count was originally scheduled Jan. 26 through 28, but that was rescinded and replaced with the new dates because of an upswing in coronavirus infections last month.
NEXT STEP ON MURAL: With a positive engineer’s report in hand, the city’s Public Arts Commission elected Wednesday evening to go directly to residents of the Desert Highland Gateway Estates neighborhood for direction on what to do with a large, decaying mural at the James O. Jesse Desert Highland Unity Center. The report, needed to determine whether the wall the mural is painted on could withstand the weight of replacing it with tiles, was completed earlier this month. In the report, an engineering firm determined that the wall could hold up to 5,800 pounds of 12-by-12 tiles. Artist Richard Wyatt Jr., who completed the mural with the help of local schoolchildren in 1997, said last year he would be willing to remake the mural using tile, similar to his Hollywood Jazz: 1945–1972 piece on the Capitol Records Building in Los Angeles. Arts commissioners elected Wednesday evening unanimously to work with the community to determine a date in March for a public meeting about the mural, preferably on a day and a time that would encourage participation.
TREE PLANTING PLANNED: The city is calling for up to 200 volunteers willing to get their hands dirty on March 12. That’s the day it’s hoped that more than 80 trees will be planted at Desert Highland Park, Victoria Park, and Demuth Park to celebrate Arbor Day. The trees — including Oak, Acacia, Chinese Elm, Silver Maple, and Australian Willow — come courtesy of an AMPlify the Urban Forest grant through Cal Fire and West Coast Arborists. The event begins at 8 a.m. at Desert Highland Park, 480 West Tramview Rd. Participants are encouraged to bring their shovels and gloves. More information on the Arbor Day event and a planning meeting for anyone willing to be a “tree leader” can be found here.
? Today’s events
Highlights of what’s happening today in Palm Springs. Find complete listings on our community calendar.
- The Mizell Center offers multiple programs and classes today, starting at 8 a.m.
- Modernism Week – the city’s annual celebration of all things midcentury modern – continues. Details are here.
- The Desert Water Agency Executive Committee meets virtually at 8 a.m.
- The LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert offers a chat group for all women — no matter how you identify — at 10:30 a.m.
- Preschool story time is offered on YouTube starting at 10:30 a.m.
- A Black History Month talk titled People Who Filled Their Seats begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Palm Springs Art Museum.
- The Palm Springs City Council meets at 5:30 p.m.
- VillageFest is happening Downtown, starting at 6 p.m.
? What to watch for
- Palm Canyon Theatre has scheduled its next performance – Palm Springs Getaway – for three weekends starting Friday.
- McCormick’s 72nd Classic Car Auction is scheduled for Friday through Sunday.
- A teacher recruitment fair for the Palm Springs Unified School District is taking place Saturday, starting at 9 a.m.
- The Palm Springs Black History Parade and Town Fair takes place Downtown on Saturday starting at 10 a.m.
- A homeless navigation center discussion is planned for March 3 at the James O. Jesse Desert Highlands Unity Center
- The Richard M. Milanovich Legacy Hike and 5K Run at Indian Canyons on March 12 is open for registration.
- The Shamrock 5K will be held the morning of March 12, starting at the Palm Springs American Legion. Registration is open now.
- Heart-to-Heart Palm Springs is selling tickets for its March 12 Military Women Appreciation Luncheon. Details are here.