Last week, citing a number of sources, we argued that the percentage of homeless suffering from mental illness was only about one-quarter to one-third of the total population. There have been other studies that suggest that number is a good deal higher.
But there seems to be an interesting split between those who believe that homelessness is due primarily to mental illness versus those who don’t. Of course, even if the number is “only” 30-37 percent of the total population, that does not mean that mental illness is not a factor. That is still well higher than the overall percentage of mentally ill in the overall population.
Moreover, attacking housing issues alongside treating mental illness might be the best solution.
Still, I think there is an important point to be made – if the homeless population is rising and worsening, that is not because suddenly there is a much larger percentage of people who are mentally ill.
As Tia Boatman Patterson, Governor Newsom’s Senior Housing Adviser, pointed out, there is a growing number of Californians who are experiencing homelessness, and she argues that “more of our state’s residents are homeless because of a temporary hardship that has forced them into couch surfing or living in their car. These are people that recently had housing, may still hold a decent job, and simply require more affordable housing opportunities.”
On the other hand, “there are the folks who are chronically homeless and may be suffering from mental illness.” She argues, “The distinction is important to make so that we can have productive discussions about the differing needs of each group and the most effective solutions, from short-term fixes to permanent supportive housing to the combination of resources, increased planning and zoning reforms needed to address our state’s massive housing supply issue.”
Lisa Hershey from Housing California argued, “More Californians are homeless because we don’t have necessary supports, like eviction protection, stable rents, and a focus on building permanent rental housing for lower incomes.
“More low-income Californians’ wages remain stagnant as rents skyrocket,” she writes.
She pushed for the state to pass policies like SB 282 which provides housing for people on parole who have mental illness, AB 10 which provides housing investment for lower-income Californians, and SB 329 which ends discrimination of rental applicants based on the source of income, as well as rent control and eviction protection.
She argued: “These solutions help people who are homeless and keep people from falling into homelessness in the first place. A multipronged, sustained plan to provide homes to people most in need will end this decades-long crisis.”
There are those who argue that the cost of housing is a problem. For instance, Jon Coupal, President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association said, “It’s unconscionable that it costs an average of $330,000 to build a unit of affordable housing in California.”
He said, “Throwing housing bonds and other revenue solutions at the problem will be ineffective until we address this root cause.”
Not surprisingly for many, the answer is simply addressing California’s huge housing shortage while shoring up our mental health and addiction safety net.
Senator Scott Wiener has pushed to increase housing in a variety of ways, many of which are controversial.
“About 70% of homeless people have neither a mental health nor an addiction problem. They simply can’t afford housing. They’re living in shelters, cars, motels, tents, or couches, often going to work and bringing their kids to school each day. They are in this predicament because of California’s failure to build enough housing at any income level,” said Senator Wiener.
He added, “California has a 3.5 million home deficit, ranks 49 out of 50 states in homes per capita, and has systematically under-funded subsidized housing for our lowest income residents. Our housing shortage puts extraordinary downward pressure on everyone, and those at the bottom of the economic ladder are at significant risk of being pushed onto the streets. We *must* end this severe housing shortage to end homelessness.”
In addition, he noted, “A minority of homeless people have mental health and/or addiction problems. We need to rebuild California’s safety net so people can access critical services to stay housed or become housed. It’s way too hard for people to access these life-saving services, and homelessness increases as a result.”
Jim Boren argues that we need to “build safe and affordable housing, even if the neighbors protest.”
He argues: “Government leaders like to convene meetings on homelessness, write reports and wring their hands at news conferences. But what they don’t want to do is upset well-connected neighbors who fight affordable housing projects that could put homeless into safe housing.”
He added, “What they don’t want to do is adequately fund mental health and substance abuse services, which could help reduce homelessness. What they don’t want to do is address the chronic poverty that leaves too many residents too close to homelessness. “
—David M. Greenwald reporting