One glance at the homeless encampment at Jefferson Street and Cucamonga Avenue in Ontario, and it's evident the homeless population is anything but shrinking.
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When the city moved the homeless by the train tracks to a dirt parcel rigged with a water line and a portable toilet in July, there were less than 20 people.

Three months later, the city-owned lot has earned the name "tent city."

Close to 200 homeless people reportedly occupy the space, which is home to an array of tents, RVs and campers, dozens of dogs, and even its own weekly Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

According to the 2007 Homeless Census and Survey released last week, San Bernardino County's homeless population rose 39.1 percent since 2003.

And in some areas of the county, it's risen much more than that.

Homeless in the 4th District, which includes Ontario, Chino, Chino Hills and Montclair, jumped 122.2 percent in the same four-year period.

"There's several factors contributing to the amount of people who are homeless," said Rowena Concepcion, manager of administrative support for Community Action Partnership of San Bernardino County, which led the study.

"We've had an increase in population (in San Bernardino County). There's an increase in the cost of real estate, and a lot of people can't afford even apartment rentals," Concepcion said.

The 4th District's 880 homeless is dwarfed by the 2,264 homeless counted in the 5th District, which covers San Bernardino, Rialto, Colton, Loma Linda and Grand Terrace.

But the 5th District only increased 1.0 percent.

There are few answers but several theories to account for the major increase in the 4th District.

Rob Clark, Montclair community development director, said he hasn't seen evidence to support 360.7 percent more homeless people in his city since 2003.

"I suspect 2003 was an undercount, and this one's an overcount," Clark said. "I haven't really seen any difference in the community."

Chino Hills' homeless count went from 3 to 63 during the same period, according to the survey, which was conducted by Watsonville-based Applied Survey Research.

Denise Cattern, Chino Hills public information officer, said the recent 63 count seemed too high.

"I've been in the community 20 years," Cattern said. "Periodically, we have this fellow named Fred who sits by the side of the road ... It doesn't appear to me we have 63 homeless people."

Peter Connery, vice president of Applied Survey Research, said the same methodology was used in the 2003 and 2007 counts.

"When we do these reports, there is almost always a high level of denial by jurisdictions about the homeless in their areas," Connery said.

"Homelessness is perceived as a person on the street corner with a shopping cart, and that's absolutely not the case," he said. "For very obvious reasons, the homeless choose to avoid the public spotlight, which is why the public thinks they don't exist."

Connery said the survey revealed one striking change.

"We found a large increase in people living in their vehicles along the Interstate 10 corridor and along the railroad tracks," he said. "That's countywide. It's a recent phase of homelessness. Typically, people live in their cars the first year."

Patricia Nickols, chief executive officer for CAP, said most of the county's homeless are homegrown.

One theory is the housing slump has produced many more of them in a short period of time.

"We know there's a direct correlation between homelessness and poverty," Nickols said. "We saw the housing market change dramatically, and that displaced a lot of the working poor."

Melvin Handke, 37, found himself in "tent city" one week ago.

Handke said he had been living in Rancho Cucamonga when he lost his job 2 months ago and couldn't pay the rent.

"I've never been homeless before this," he said. "I'm looking for a job and plan to be here just long enough to get back on my feet."

The survey compelled the Board of Supervisors to initiate the Homeless Partnership, a public-private entity to pool resources and services in the county.

Nickols said she is hopeful the new partnership will join cities and organizations to create a one-stop center for the county's homeless to receive a range of supportive services.

Connery said the ratio of unsheltered to sheltered homeless in San Bernardino County is one of the highest in the nation, so more shelter beds and permanent housing are sorely needed, too.

Presently, the county is 6,000 beds short.

Pattie Barnes, 46, said when her husband died unexpectedly last year, she lost her mobile home in Fontana.

Barnes said she and her 19-year-old son, Jon, and their two dogs were staying in her camper on Rancho Cucamonga streets before they heard about "tent city."

"It's just so hard to find a place to live," Barnes said. "I get $830 a month SSI disability, and you have to make three times the amount of rent to get a place."

"I thank God for this every day," she said of the city-sanctioned encampment. "I just hope one day I can get out of here."

2007 Homeless Census and Survey

A few key statistics:

Overall increase in those homeless from 2004 to 2007 in San Bernardino County: 39.1 percent

Greatest percent increase: 122.2 percent, Supervisors District 4 (Ontario, Chino, Chino Hills and Montclair)

Smallest percent increase: 1.0 percent, District 5 (San Bernardino, Rialto, Colton, Loma Linda and Grand Terrace)

Where were they living when they became homeless?

San Bernardino County: 71.9 percent

Los Angeles County: 10.6 percent

Riverside County: 6.3 percent

Sources of income:

Recycling: 43.8 percent

Panhandling: 28.2 percent

Disabling conditions

affecting homeless population:

Depression: 42 percent

Mental illness: 26.3 percent

Physical disability: 26.3 percent

Source: Community

Action Partnership of

San Bernardino Count