Homelessness in Ventura County:
An analysis of the service use and costs of persistent homelessness, FY2017 & FY2018

Homelessness is on the rise in Ventura County. After almost a decade of steady decline, Ventura's 2019 point-in-time survey counted 1,669 men, women, and children experiencing homelessness, a fifty percent increase from 2017. This trend continued into 2020, with the January point-in-time count growing by an additional 4.4% to 1,743 adults and children experiencing homelessness.

Among this population, service use is often concentrated disproportionately among a relative minority of people who face acute and persistent challenges. In 2019, Ventura County partnered with the cities of Oxnard and Ventura to engage Social Finance in better understanding the service use and resulting costs of supporting this population.

The analysis, highlighted in this interactive report, integrated data from 13 County and City departments to track homeless programs, law enforcement, healthcare and behavioral health delivery, emergency transit, and other programs.

Hover over the circles to explore the data sets.

Defining the high-utilizing population

Determining whether or not an individual is experiencing homelessness is challenging through administrative data alone. Some individuals experiencing homelessness do not access government services, while many who are accessing services are not experiencing homelessness. No single data source provides a definitive demarcation.

By joining together data from across Ventura's public services, Social Finance developed a method to estimate the service use of people who are very likely experiencing homelessness and are frequent users of emergency services. Scroll down to explore.

Social Finance began with a data set of 8,999 individuals with at least three interactions with any service tracked through the Homeless Management Information System during FY17 FY17 is July 2016 - June 2017. & FY18. FY18 is July 2017 - June 2018.

= 90 individuals

Among these 8,999 individuals, 2,519 were flagged as very likely to be experiencing homelessness. Defined as meeting one of fifteen key service code descriptions including:

At Risk/Homeless Housing, Related Assistance Programs, Emergency Shelter, Homeless Courts, Homeless Drop-in Centers, Alcohol Use Related Recovery Homes/Halfway Houses, Homeless Employment Programs, Homeless Motel Vouchers, Homeless Transportation Programs, Homelessness Prevention Programs, Housing/Shelter, Private Mail Services, Public Showers/Baths, Runaway/Youth Shelters, Street Outreach Program, Transitional Housing/Shelter

Of these, 541 individuals were experiencing homelessness over two or more years. Defined as meeting one of the indicative service codes in both FY17 & FY18.

And of these individuals experiencing longer-term homelessness, 140 individuals were classified as high-utilizing. We defined the high-utilizing population as the top 25% as measured by cost.

Services for this high-utilizing population of 140 individuals cost $5-8 million per year, with an average per-person annual expenditure of $37,500.


The interactive graph below displays the historical costs of the 140 highest-utilizing people experiencing homelessness, on average, across FY17 & FY18.

Each number on the x-axis represents an individual. Individuals are ordered from highest cost to lowest cost.

The y-axis displays average annual costs The average annual cost for each individual is calculated by adding costs across FY17 and FY18 and then dividing by two. for each individual.

The colors in the graph correspond to the type of service utilized.

Keep scrolling to explore the data...

Total annual expenditures:
Avg. per-person cost: $37,500
We found that when we altered the requirement that individuals exhibit a key service code indicating homelessness in both FY17 and FY18, and instead only required such a flag in FY18, average costs jumped significantly.

Press the toggle button at any point to compare results with and without this requirement.

Rather than select one of these filtering criteria over the other, we have chosen to include both in this study as rough upper and lower bounds of the potential expenditures associated with the persistently homeless.
Hover over the graph to explore per-category costs.
Healthcare costs total:
Healthcare as percent of total:
Healthcare costs, avg. per-person:

Client Journeys

This kind of aggregated analysis can be valuable to policy-making, but it’s only one part of the puzzle. The stories of the people whose lives are highlighted in these data are essential. We recognize the limitations of a purely numerical perspective, and recommend taking the time to hear directly from people experiencing homelessness.

One small contribution toward the goal of recognizing unique journeys through the homeless system of care is to understand how different people from the analysis interacted with public systems. Below, explore the journeys of four of these individuals.

Dates and utilization patterns have been modified to protect client confidentiality, while still illustrating real trends seen in the data.
Hover over the graph to explore further.

*Hover over legend text for additional detail.

When we examine the data by quartile, cost drivers vary.

For the top quartile, healthcare is the largest component of costs.
Jail becomes an increasingly larger share of total costs among the bottom three quartiles.
Even the lower end of this spectrum, as demonstrated by the bottom quartile, represents significant annual systems use with an average annual per-person cost of $17,203 to $30,642.

Utilization Overlap

High-utilizing individuals are more likely than the broader homeless population to interact with multiple agencies. The Venn diagram below explores service usage overlap among the top-three utilized services: healthcare, behavioral health, and jail.

Behavioral Health Healthcare Jail
The high-utilizing population studied consistently interacted with more than one service.
116 of the 140 high-utilizers (83%) interacted with more than one of the three highest-cost services: behavioral health, healthcare, or jail.
Only 24 individuals (17%) accessed just one of the highest-cost services across both fiscal years analyzed, a distinct contrast to the broader persistently homeless population of 541 individuals in which 33% of the population only interacted with one system.
50 of the 140 highest utilizers (36%) accessed all three of the highest-cost services.

In Conclusion

The costs of persistent homelessness are high - not only to the County, but to the health and wellbeing of individuals experiencing homelessness as well. This analysis attempts to measure the dollars and cents associated with the status quo—with the hopes that it can inform future discussions about the most effective use of public funding to end homelessness.

Thank you to the staff and leadership in the following departments, without whom this study would not have been possible:

City of Oxnard, City of Thousand Oaks, City of Ventura, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Gold Coast Health, Mercy House Living Centers, Ventura County Whole Person Care, Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, Ventura County Rescue Mission, Ventura County Watershed, Ventura County Behavioral Health, Ventura County Emergency Medical Services, Ventura County Fire Department, Ventura County Human Services Agency, Ventura County Probation Agency, and Ventura County Public Defender’s Office.

Special thanks to Christy Madden, Deputy Executive Officer at County of Ventura, and Tara Carruth, Program Manager for the Ventura County Continuum of Care.

Analysis by Sean Burpoe, Shivan Sarin, Ryan Gillette, and Jake Segal of Social Finance.

Design, coding, and data visualizations by David Cotton and Annika Roise.

Please contact Jake Segal (jsegal@socialfinance.org) with questions or for additional information about Social Finance.


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