Los Angeles CNN --
California spent $17.5 billion in just four years to fight homelessness. In the same period, between 2018 and 2022, California's homeless population actually increased. Federal data show that half of Americans who live on the street are in California.
Homelessness is increasing across the nation. California adds more homeless people each year than any other State. Here, more than 170,000 people are now homeless.
Jason Elliott, Senior Advisor on Homelessness for Gov. Gavin Newsom told CNN. "And that's definitely not what the people want to hear." I get it, we get it.'
Even with California's high housing costs, $17.5 billion could theoretically have paid for the rent of every person who was unhoused in California during those four years.
"That's reductive... Maybe that would work for you, since I don't really have behavioral health issues." Elliott. "If two-thirds of the people living on the street are suffering from mental health issues, we cannot just pay for their rent."
Even though the math is a bit reductive, it would still leave almost $4 billion to spend on mental health services. Even if California wanted to pay for the rent of every homeless person in California, there isn't enough housing that can be afforded.
Elliott said, "We need to build 2.5 million new units in California." This is a long-term problem, resulting from policy decisions we have made. We are not innocent. When I say we, that includes both Republicans and Democrats.
To combat homelessness, a total of $20.6 billion will be allocated by 2024. Nearly $4 billion was given to local governments for anti-homelessness programs. Project Homekey, a program that also funds local governments but specifically buys properties such as motels and commercial building to be converted into permanent affordable housing, received $3.7 billion. 13 500 units have so far been completed. Elliott said, 'It is not enough'. But reversing this slide is the first thing to do in order to create an increase.
Cristina Smith moved recently into one of Los Angeles's new affordable apartments. She had given up on hope after five years of being without a place to live, as many others have. She told CNN affiliate KCBS that she thought the house was a fake. "Until they handed me the keys, I thought it was fake. After a while, you don't really believe it.
Another $2 billion was allocated to tax credits that developers could use to build affordable housing. 481 units have been completed, and thousands more are expected. A further $2 billion was used to jump-start affordable housing initiatives that were stalled due to funding shortages. Nearly $2 billion went to emergency rental assistance.
In recent years, California has experienced devastating wildfire seasons, and of course the Covid pandemic. Both add to the pressure on housing.
Elliott said, "It is frustrating, it is frustrating... It's very frustrating for us." If we really want to solve the problem of homelessness in America, then it's time to build more housing. We need to build housing.
Dr. Margot Kushelle, who collaborated with Elliott in forming a pandemic strategy for California's homeless, has just released a large report. It contains the results of an extensive survey conducted on nearly 3,200 people without housing across California. She calls it 'the most representative study of homelessness ever since the mid-1990s. Kushel is the director of the UCSF Center for Vulnerable populations. She was commissioned by California to determine who is homeless and why.
Many voters and politicians are looking for solutions. Newsom dedicated his entire State of the State address in 2020 to the topic. According to a poll conducted recently, 84% Californians believe homelessness is a "very serious problem." The issue was a major factor in the Los Angeles mayoral election last year. Karen Bass declared a state-of-emergency on homelessness the day after she took office.
Kushel’s report debunked some myths. She concludes that 'participants wanted permanent housing' in her report.
Second, many of the people living on the streets in California are not native Californians. Many people believe that homeless people from other states come to California because of the climate and more liberal attitude towards homelessness. California owes them nothing. Not true, says Kushel.
Nine out of ten people have lost their stable housing. She said, 'These are Californians. We have to build housing for Californians.
Los Angeles offers motel rooms to the homeless, but there are some conditions.
05:33 Source: CNN
Myth number three: Mental illness is a driving force for homelessness. Elliott, the Governor's advisor, has cited a statistic that 66% of respondents reported'symptoms' of mental illness. This is a stat which Elliott uses to argue the solution is more complex than simply writing rent checks. Kushel asked if homelessness was caused by mental health issues or vice versa.
She said that'most of those, or half of them, were suffering from severe anxiety or depression - which is not surprising when you are experiencing homelessness'.
Newsom's administration is still focusing on mental health problems among the homeless. He said, last spring, that he was taking a 'new approach' to mental health, rather than reforming a system which is fundamentally and deeply broken.
The new approach includes a controversial part that forces some people into mental healthcare help. This is done by allowing family members, medical professionals, or social workers to refer someone to be considered for an ordered treatment program.
Kushel says that addressing the mental health issue alone will not solve the problem. Not when the median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment is $2,200.
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View the locations where homeless people are forced to live.
This brings us to the requirement for another 2.5 million homes. The state has a plan for building them all by 2030. Housing and zoning are decided by local governments in California as they are elsewhere.
Elliott, the adviser to the governor, said that there are communities in this State who refuse to build affordable housing. Because they claim that it's just rapists or child molesters. That's what we're dealing with, right?
The state has sued a number wealthy cities for blocking the construction of affordable housing in their borders.
Rents in California are too high because there aren't many affordable houses.
Kushel said that the primary cause of homelessness was economics. People just don't make enough money to pay their rent.
How much money will people need to stay in their home and make up for the shortfall? Kushel noted that the survey respondents were surprised at how confident they were in their belief that a relatively small amount of money could have prevented them from becoming homeless. For many of them, $300 or $500 per month would be enough.
Newsom's administration has spent more money to combat homelessness in California than any other state. Before 2018, there was no unified statewide funding or plan. They say the state is in need of help. Elliott said, 'The federal governments needs to step in and do what they used to do which was to provide housing as a guaranteed'. Elliott says that for every four Americans who need a housing voucher there is only one voucher.
Food stamps are a guaranteed. A guarantee is health care. Spin the wheel.
Kushel responded, "I think that they are on board." When asked how officials in the state have reacted, Kushel said, "I think that they are on board." I hope they are, and I believe that they are. I don't always agree, but I do think that they are trying. Kushel shook her head and said, "Oh, my gosh. I don't even know." As you can hear, my goal is to focus solely on finding permanent housing for people. I believe that this is the best way to end homelessness. She agreed that some politicians may be more concerned with the facade of getting people into shelters, motels or other temporary housing than they are about permanent housing.
Elliott said that she couldn't agree more with this description. Elliott said, 'We are facing a tsunami and we are doing our best to float on the surface and try to tread the water as we work to bring about the fundamental changes needed both in California and nationally to address homelessness.
Mayor Bass, who is the mayor of Los Angeles and the epicenter for the homeless crisis in California, launched the Inside Safe program to remove street encampments. She was eager to announce the success in moving over 1,300 people from the streets to motels, but refused to estimate the number of people who have moved into permanent housing. In the 2023-2024 budget, $250 million is allocated for Inside Safe. The total amount will be divided into 110 million dollars to cover the cost of temporary motels. Permanent housing will cost $21 million.
Inside Safe moved a woman from Los Angeles to a motel nearly 200 days back. She says she is still in the same place and that there is no plan to move her permanently. She is frustrated and has lost hope.
There is no magic bullet.
Kushel said, "They are trying very hard to keep people living." They're stuck in a vicious cycle because they don't have the housing to send them to.