Landmark UCSF Study on Homelessness Reinforces Council’s Focus on Housing Production

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A statewide study released this week by the UCSF Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative provides important insights into California’s homeless population. The study, which is the largest examination of homeless adults in nearly three decades, reveals that the majority of homeless individuals in California were residents of the state before losing their housing. It highlights that nearly half of the homeless population is over the age of 50, and there is a disproportionate representation of Black and Indigenous individuals among the homeless community.

The study also finds that while substance abuse and mental health challenges can contribute to the loss of housing, the fundamental cause of homelessness in the state is the lack of housing that is affordable to those with very low incomes. The median income of the study participants prior to homelessness was just $960 a month, while the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the state is more than three times that. When study participants were unable to find housing they could afford and did not have family or friends to stay with, they found themselves on the street. 

The study authors advocate for a number of policy solutions, noting that participants said that a rental subsidy of just $300-$500 a month would have prevented their homelessness, as would receiving a Housing Choice Voucher or similar. However, most Californians facing homelessness are not aware that services are available, with only 36% of study participants seeking help to prevent their homelessness, with most reaching out to friends and family rather than non-profits or government agencies. 

Without a sufficient supply of affordable housing for very low-income Californians, the state will continue to struggle with unconscionably high rates of homelessness. The Bay Area Council has been at the forefront of advocacy for increased housing production at all levels of affordability, including opportunity housing to immediately provide shelter to those living on the streets. The findings from CASPEH underscore the importance of this work in ending our state’s homelessness crisis. 

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