Homelessness is a Complex Problem, But the Math is Relatively Simple

By Yolo County Supervisor Oscar Villegas

***Editor’s Note: The following article is one viewpoint on how to prevent and end homelessness. On March 27, another viewpoint was published in the article “A 10 Point Plan to End and Prevent Homelessness in California.

Homelessness is among the most important and challenging issues facing California today. The number of homeless people in the state has climbed to about 134,000 according to recent official counts, but the actual number is probably far higher. Their lives are literally hanging in the balance, because people living on the streets are far more likely to suffer from illness, injury and violence.

The problem is complex, but the math is relatively simple. We have more than 2.2 million households in California that qualify as either Very or Extremely Low Income. There are only about 664,000 low income housing units in the state. We need more low income housing — and we need it now. This can be costly, but the financial and societal costs are far greater if we don’t find solutions. California has recently seen a hepatitis outbreak in San Diego and destructive wildfires in Los Angeles linked to people just trying to live without the sanitary and cooking facilities most of us take for granted.

That’s why the California State Association of Counties has proposed to the Governor and Legislature an allocation of $1.3 billion from this year’s projected state budget surplus for affordable housing programs and services. Last year the Legislature passed a series of housing bills that will provide more revenue for affordable housing, but it takes time. SB 2, for example, adds a $75 fee on recording housing documents. It will take at least a year to raise the money and more time to disburse it.

California needs to begin building affordable housing now, and the current budget surplus could help reduce the cost of housing and streamline the process for thousands of eligible families. We also believe additional funds should be used to jump start the No Place Like Home Initiative to begin work on critically needed permanent supportive housing units. For the significant percentage of homeless people who need behavioral health treatment and other services to address the causes of their chronic homelessness, a supported place to live can be the key to that treatment.

California counties have “boots on the ground” experience with homelessness. Our recent report on homelessness from our joint taskforce with League of California Cities details a housing voucher program in Marin County, a tiny-home community in Yuba County and a comprehensive pilot program in my own Yolo County. Counties are thinking outside the box, and we are finding creative and innovative ways to get people into shelters, into programs that address the cause of their homelessness and eventually into permanent homes. But we need more affordable housing units as soon as possible to continue that work.

We urge the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to consider the budget requests outlined in our letter. Homelessness and affordable housing are both crisis issues in California. We know what works to begin easing these issues and many local governments, non-profits and community-based organizations are finding success, but we need additional resources to meet the need. Solutions to the homelessness and housing crises are available, but it is now up to all of us to implement them.

Yolo County Supervisor Oscar Villegas wrote this op-ed as a member of the California State Association of Counties. 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. Job data used in this article is compiled by the Fermanian Business and Economic Institute for Point Loma and is not meant to be used as an official State of California source or replace official information released by the State of California and/or State Department of Finance.