A 10 Point Plan to End and Prevent Homelessness in California

By Bob Erlenbusch, Executive Director Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness & Board President, National Coalition for the Homeless

***Editor’s Note: The following article is one viewpoint on how to prevent and end homelessness. On March 26, another viewpoint was published in the article “Homelessness is a Complex Problem, But the Math is Relatively Simple.”

According to the 2017 Point In Time Count, homelessness increased by 13.7% from 2016, equating to 135,000 people experiencing homelessness, with 68%, or about 88,000 people, experiencing homelessness who are unsheltered due to lack of emergency shelter and affordable and accessible housing.

As the recent report, Homelessness Taskforce Report, a joint report by the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties, points out, “…experts agree that the number of people without housing is three to four times higher than the point-in-time count.”

Specifically, the PIT Count undercounts unaccompanied youth, women, children and families. In addition to the PIT Count, the California Department of Education documents 250,000 children and youth who are homeless from K-12th grade in the state’s school districts. Additionally, it is estimated that just in the California State University system alone that there are over 30,000 college students who are homeless.

Finally, a University of California 2017 report stated 5% or 12,600 of 252,000 student body experienced homelessness, while the Los Angeles Community College District 2015 report stated 19% of the student body experienced homelessness.

Thus, the actual number of people experiencing homelessness in California is well over 500,000 people.

A driving force in the homeless crisis in California is the high cost of housing. California is home to 21 of 30 most expensive rental markets in the nation. There are 2.2 million extremely low-income and very-low income Californian’s that must compete for only 664,000 affordable rental units — or roughly 4 times as many people in need of affordable housing than there are available units.

Public policy makers and the community must address the underlying structural, including institutional racism, economic, including the gentrification and the continued disinvestment in disadvantaged neighborhoods,and social structures that contribute to the lack of affordable housing, hunger and homelessness. Here is a 10 point plan to prevent and end homelessness.

1. Fund emergency shelters year round: Until there is enough affordable housing, we must create enough emergency shelter to keep people experiencing homelessness safe and alive;

2. Create affordable and accessible housing and fund to scale: we must create affordable housing in this state that reaches the 30%-50% of area median income. We can only do that by the governor and state legislature funding a Housing Trust Fund to scale, i.e., in the tens of billions of dollars;

3. End the “housing vs. services dichotomy:” for years we funded housing without the services money. Now, for example, the Whole Person Care Act funds services without the housing funds. Services without housing or vice versa does not work. We need to create funding streams that take a holistic approach and fund both service and housing to the scale of the crisis;

4. Repeal Costa Hawkins: we must immediately address escalating rents in our communities that create homelessness. Every $100 increase in rent, increases homelessness by about 15%. We must allow cities to adopt rent control measures to break the rent cycle of homelessness;

5. End discharge to the streets: hospitals, jails, prisons and the foster care system discharge youth and adults into homelessness. We must create respite care facilities and reentry centers so that these institutions have a safe place to send people rather than to the streets;

6. Employment & income strategies: we must couple affordable housing with employment and income strategies so that formerly homeless people can afford their home. This includes California significantly increasing the SSI grant as well as creating a Homeless Employment program to help rebuild the infrastructure on our communities;

7. Solutions need to be for all homeless populations: we must end pitting the chronically homeless against all other homeless populations. This strategy has led to a decrease in the chronically homeless, but an increase in youth, women and families, and more recently homelessness on college campuses;

8. End the criminalization of homelessness: homelessness is not a crime and continuing to criminalize people experiencing homelessness continues to create housing and employment barriers for homeless people;

9. Reform Proposition 13: “Split Roll:” proposition 13 has allowed corporations not to pay billions in property taxes. It is time to reform Prop. 13 and split the property tax rolls between home owners and corporations so that we put billions back into the state budget to pay for housing and services;

10. Political will: None of this will happen until we elect leadership, starting with the Governor, who has the political will to make ending and preventing homelessness a top priority and fund these programs to scale.

Bob Erlenbusch is the Executive Director of the Sacramento Regional Council to End Homeless. He began working as a homeless advocate at Health Care for the Homeless, Los Angeles, in November 1984. He was the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger & Homelessness for 20 years before moving to Sacramento 10 years ago. Currently he is the Board President, National Coalition for the Homeless, Washington, DC. The opinions in this article are presented in the spirit of spurring discussion and reflect those of the author and not necessarily the treasurer, his office or the State of California