2022 Bay Area Council Poll: Voters Demand “Get Tough” Approach on Homelessness
Bay Area voters have reached their breaking point when it comes to a seemingly intractable homeless crisis that is wrecking thousands of lives, causing untold human suffering, destroying communities and neighborhoods and costing taxpayers many hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars a year. According to the 2022 Bay Area Council Poll, 86% of voters say homelessness has only worsened over the past few years. And they want action.
While legislators and public policy makers have been locked in a debate over whether to force homeless people to accept shelter, voters are clear on what they think should happen. The poll found that 70% of voters agree more with the perspective that it’s “time to get tough on the unsheltered who refuse shelter and treatment” and not allow anyone to remain on the streets if shelter is available than the perspective that no one should be forced to live in a shelter. The get-tough approach was most often preferred among San Francisco voters (78%), where the city’s homeless problem and sprawling tent encampments have captured national media attention.
“This is not about villainizing homeless, this is about treating the awful human suffering and misery on our streets and sidewalks with the urgency it deserves,” said Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council. “With all of the money, resources, energy that is being thrown at this problem, voters’ have lost all patience. These poll results should be a screaming wake-up call to our state and local leaders that the status quo is simply unacceptable. We need get outside our comfort zone, break down institutional and bureaucratic barriers and be willing to try bold approaches that may not make everyone happy.”
One of those approaches is using conservatorships, which provide legal authority to allow for the care of someone who is unable to care for themselves. The Bay Area Council Poll found 87% support for giving local governments the power to place homeless people suffering from severe mental health and/or substance abuse disorders into conservatorships and court-ordered treatment. Support was almost universally high regardless of geography, ethnicity, gender and political affiliation.
The Bay Area Council supports using conservatorships as a tool for helping the most intransigent of the homeless population get the services they need, which state estimates indicate amount to approximately a quarter of the homeless population.
Even with the many billions of dollars the state and cities are spending to address homelessness, the Bay Area Council Poll found 58% support directing more money at the problem. Another 22% of voters say we should be spending less while 20% say funding levels should remain where they are.
The lowest level of support for spending more money was among San Francisco voters (46%), where the city has poured massive sums into both the city’s response and supporting a network of nonprofit service providers. Contra Costa County (64%) and Marin and Sonoma counties (62%, combined) are the most supportive spending more money to fix the homeless problem.
The Bay Area Council has been intensely focused on understanding the factors that contribute to homelessness and advocating for new approaches to address the problem. In addition to advocating for the construction of more housing, including a wide range of temporary shelters and permanent supportive housing, the Council has advocated for increased funding for shelters, supported Gov. Newsom’s Project Homekey, and supported streamlining of emergency shelters. In two comprehensive reports on the issue, the Council has also called for better regional coordination among the multitude of county and local governments.