Homelessness is once again at the forefront of conversation in Sacramento – this time with an emphasis on accountability. Spending state funds effectively is clearly important – not just when addressing homelessness, but also when handing out tax breaks for profitable corporations and wealthy tax filers. And yet with all the talk of “where has the homelessness money gone,” and “why hasn’t this problem gone away,” we need to stay focused on why accountability matters: because Californians without homes must be able to count on state leaders to stay committed to the work that’s required to ensure all people in our state have a safe and stable home.
State leaders should focus their energy on staying accountable to unhoused Californians – who live in every county of our state – and who are in need of support to secure safe and stable homes. And while it’s not an easy or quick feat, policymakers have the tools to make progress and end homelessness in California.
No Californian should lack a safe and stable home – yet many thousands of individuals in California experience homelessness and its destructive effects every year.
Who are the Californians experiencing homelessness? The data show that they are older adults and youth, single adults and families with children.
Homelessness is a racial equity issue: Black Californians are disproportionately likely to experience homelessness, and American Indian and Pacific Islander Californians – and increasingly, Latinx Californians – are also especially affected. These inequities reflect the far-reaching effects of structural racism in creating educational, housing, economic, and health barriers for Californians of color.
Homelessness is also an LGBTQ+ equity issue: Transgender individuals are disproportionately likely to face unsheltered homelessness, and LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to experience homelessness, in many cases as a direct result of family rejection of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
For the Californians who experience it, homelessness has devastating effects. Lack of stable housing disrupts a person’s ability to keep a job, makes it difficult for children to attend and focus on school, and severely impedes access to basic necessities. Homelessness exposes individuals to serious health risks and makes it difficult to access health care, and the trauma of experiencing homelessness can cause, and exacerbate, mental health challenges. This devastation to people’s lives is why homelessness in California is a crisis that requires urgent attention from state, federal, and local leaders.
Yes, homelessness is a complex challenge – but extensive research identifies evidence-based approaches that are effective in helping people successfully exit homelessness and maintain stable housing.
These include “housing first” interventions that move people into permanent housing as the first priority; supportive housing for individuals who are chronically homeless with serious physical or mental health challenges; and targeted programs for specific populations like homeless youth or domestic violence survivors, and for homelessness prevention.
Looking upstream, the severe shortage of affordable housing – particularly for people with the lowest incomes – is the number-one driver of California’s homelessness crisis, so expanding that supply is also critical.
We know what needs to be done to address homelessness. In fact, California’s homelessness response systems have been expanding their reach to serve more people in need, and recent state investments are growing the pipeline of deeply affordable homes in development. Yet we need to stay committed to building our capacity with sustained, at-scale investments that meet the need. The fact that progress takes time – particularly in the shadow of a global pandemic – is not an excuse to give up or do less.
Everyone can agree that homelessness is one of California’s most pressing challenges. It should be at the forefront of public conversation – because of the devastating and deeply inequitable impact homelessness has on the Californians who experience it. It’s time to cut through the noise and focus on what we know needs to be done to make progress on this challenge: having the persistence to invest in the solutions we know are effective, with reliable support, at a scale that meets the need.