Our state’s failure in addressing homelessness

Brooke Brogan, Co-Editor-in-Chief

It’s an inescapable problem. In some cities, we see it on almost every corner. In Modesto, the situation isn’t any better.

Homelessness in California is an issue that policymakers have been trying to solve for years to no avail. Because of rising housing costs, the number of homeless individuals has only grown exponentially.

Many of these people were forced into these circumstances without a choice, yet they are living on California’s streets without proper access to food and safe shelter. According to a 2019 report, California holds over a quarter of the nation’s homeless population despite making up only 12% of the US’s population (CA Legislative Analyst’s Office).  

These disproportionate numbers demonstrate the urgency of this issue and need for unique policy approaches in the state.

Although California has spent a substantial amount of money in fighting homelessness, more needs to be done to increase housing affordability and offer a long-term solution. This situation is even more dire now that the pandemic has worsened the economic crisis facing low-income families. 

In the spring of 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom announced “Project Roomkey,” a federally-funded program to combat homelessness during the COVID-19 crisis. Around 30% of those who are considered chronically homeless were able to secure a room, but only around 8% of the state’s total homeless population were able to, with inequities evident across BIPOC populations (Public Policy Institute of California). 

This emergency program ended in 2020, and it is evident that we need to learn from our policy mistakes and make wise legislative decisions moving forward.

Addressing the homelessness crisis does not have a simple solution, but one action stands out from the rest: expanding permanent supportive housing. 

These types of housing facilities offer a safe place to stay, supportive counseling, rehab, and job training. Residents typically pay around 30% of their income in rent. This would save taxpayers money in the long-term, as studies have shown that permanent supportive housing helps homeless individuals stay out of the streets, hospitals, and jail (CalMatters). 

It is not cheap, however, as it can cost around $500,000 to construct just one unit, as seen in LA’s recent attempts to expand permanent supportive housing.

A problem as large and complex as the homelessness situation in California requires a long-term solution, even though its upfront cost may seem higher. California cannot continue relying on large federal funds for new programs that only offer short-term solutions, such as emergency shelters and rental assistance. 

In a state with one of the wealthiest economies in the world, we must act with decency and compassion. It’s time to hold our state leaders accountable for their campaign promises.