A file photo of tents in Downtown San Diego.

The number of unsheltered homeless people in San Diego County has jumped to an estimated 5,000 people, according to the latest count – and it appears some are opting out of rooms at local shelters.

According to the Regional Homeless Task Force in 2016 Count, the number of people in shelters in the County went down last year by 18 percent – from 4,586 to 3,752 individuals. At the same time, the number of unsheltered homeless people went up by the same percent from 4,156 to 4,940 individuals.

Thomas Easthope has lived on the streets in downtown San Diego for three years. 

He told NBC7 he is getting support from Social Security for health issues, but says it isn’t enough.

“I’d like to be able afford a place to live,” he said.

Many of the small hotels that used to offer single occupant rooms are gone. The park Easthope lives near sits under a large new apartment complex now under construction.

In hopes of easing the homeless problem in the City of San Diego, city officials started a $12.5 million initiative called Housing Our Heroes. The program helps veterans connect with housing.

At a press conference in North Park Wednesday, the City announced that more than 700 veterans are in the program. About 450 are in housing now and a couple hundred are in the process of being connected to housing with the assistance of the VA.  

However, the City of San Diego says they are in need of hundreds of landlords to step forward to get involved to place more veterans into housing faster.

Paul, a Marine veteran, said the process has had a big impact on him.

“You know getting off the street is incredible, it’s like going from night to day…you have more security than being on the street,” he said.

Veteran homelessness has gone down from 2011 by nearly 30 percent in the County thanks to programs like Housing Our Heroes and President Obama’s Housing First.

But still thousands are left in the cold.

Some estimates say they are approximately 1,000 people living in tents in the County, a number three times higher than two years ago.

Christa Tiegue, a homeless San Diegan, said she bounced from shelter to shelter – but, eventually, she decided to buy a tent and live outside. Her tent is one of many set up in the shadow of San Diego’s high rises. Tiegue lives there with her four children, aged four to 14. 

She says she can keep a better eye on them here. There is safety in numbers, Tiegue told NBC7.

To get off the streets she said she needs ”some type of a program that’s available to single moms to be able to put the kids in daycare and work.”

The profile of most of the people by the Regional Homeless Task Force shows that about 71 percent of the unsheltered homeless are men between 25 and 54 years old. Sixty percent are white, and many have physical and mental disabilities.

Easthope says he sees lots of people on the streets with those issues.

“There’s guys rolling around in a wheelchair, with one leg, you know they definitely need to be indoors,” Easthope said. 

Another statistic is raising another issue: according to the Regional Homeless Task Force, about two-thirds of all of the unsheltered were incarcerated at some time.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer told NBC 7 San Diego that it has been a far greater challenge to get some of those people into housing than it has been for veteran due to the lack of support programs. 

Two years ago, when the penalty for drug offenses went down, it had an impact on homelessness, he said.  

“There’s no doubt we’re also seeing the effects of Prop 47 in terms of substance abuse on the streets, and methamphetamine, and other things that’s not helping the situation, it’s harming the situation, and frankly harming the individual,” Faulconer said. 

The Department of Housing and Urban Renewal awarded San Diego County $18,229,194 for programs to help homeless people and provide a network of continuum of care.

The City of San Diego has added a staff member to address the growing issue and hopes that more resources, like those available for veterans, will help them better solve the issue for people who are calling the streets home for now.