Commentary: We Have a Growing Homeless Crisis – Are We Willing to Solve It?

Photo by Mihály Köles on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

The PPIC (Public Policy Institute of California) this week looked at the growing homeless problem in California—which is unique in part because it is growing far faster than in the rest of the country (six percent from 2020 to 2022) and in part because nearly half of the unsheltered homeless problem resided in California.

Jennifer Paluch and Joseph Herrera, writing for PPIC, noted that the 2022 January PIT (Point in Time) Count was released in December and “offers the first complete data since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March of 2020, as many counts were put on pause for health and safety reasons.”

While California continues to dominate the nation’s unsheltered population, drilling a bit deeper is an interesting trend.

The pandemic changed federal and state-level responses “to protect people experiencing homelessness, including offering hotel rooms as temporary housing, moratoriums on evictions, and expanded housing supports.”

While the overall homeless population grew at six percent compared to 0.4 percent in the rest of the country, PPIC found, “A 17% increase in the homeless but sheltered population accounts for almost all of California’s change, while the more visible unsheltered population increased 2%. The rest of the country’s unsheltered population grew faster than California’s (4%), while its sheltered population actually shrank (-2%).”

Those numbers suggest that hotels and other temporary housing measures, along with eviction moratoriums, actually did what they were designed to do—it didn’t stop a growth in homeless population, but it pushed that growth into the more manageable sheltered population.

Writing in CalMatters, Dan Walters this week asked if ending homelessness was “just a matter of money?”

Walters notes, “The politics of homelessness – or rather of spending on homelessness – appear to be entering a very contentious phase.”

The state has spent “nearly $10 billion on battling the social malady, according to a new state report. The money paid for 35 different programs administered by nine different state agencies.”

He argues, “Despite the spending, homelessness numbers have continued to rise and legislators know that the voting public is losing patience.”

“It’s very frustrating for the general public when they hear that in the state, we’re spending billions – and that’s billions with a B – of dollars on homelessness and housing. And yet they don’t feel that they’re seeing enough of an impact in their communities,” Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, a Burbank Democrat, said.

Newsom for his part, puts blame on local governments, with Walters noting that the Governor said he would be “hard-pressed to make a case to the Legislature to provide them $1 more” if local officials don’t accelerate homelessness responses.

Walters writes “one might wonder, if successfully battling homelessness is a matter of money, how much would it take?”

Walters then cites the report that we have—the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) and the California Housing Partnership released a report projecting that “California could end homelessness by 2035 were it to spend $8.1 billion a year until then – the vast majority of it for housing.”

Writes Walters, “That totals more than $100 billion, a big number that does not include ancillary services such as food, medical care and treatment for mental illness, drug addiction and alcoholism. However, it might be a bargain if, in fact, it worked.”

While I find this all interesting, it becomes a bit frustrating as well.

After all, we have begun the year in 2023 with one local fight after another over housing.  The homeless problem in California is exacerbated by the high cost of housing that puts people who are at risk for homelessness over the top.

The massive numbers of the unsheltered homeless population in California is attributable to the lack of shelter and temporary housing, not to mention the need for permanent supportive housing.

The CSH’s analysis found, “The total unmet housing need for households experiencing and expected to experience homelessness over the next 12 years is 225,053 units.”

A huge cause of this is the dramatic rent increases across California.  CSH cites a Zillow study that found “communities that spend an average of more than 32 percent of their incomes for rent have higher rates of homelessness.”

And it doesn’t take much: “Just a two percent increase in housing unaffordability in Los Angeles, the report found, results in over 4,200 additional renters falling into homelessness.”

The numbers that were seen in California bear this out.

For instance, CSH cites, in 2021 “Los Angeles renters saw their rent increase by 10 percent, San Diego renters by 21 percent, and Fresno renters by 13 percent.”

They found, “Already, the number of California households with extremely low incomes (making less than 30 percent of the median income in their community) totals about 1.1 million; 79 percent of these renters are paying more than half of their incomes on rent.”

It’s not rocket science.  Now you add in the fact that 45 percent of people utilizing homeless services have a disability, and the high rates of substance use disorder and mental illness, and you have a good glimpse of the problem.

The data from PPIC and the study from CSH also point to some solutions to that problem, but it all starts with funding, supportive housing, and reducing the housing crisis.

We have a number and a roadmap.  Are we willing to actually address it?

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Ron Glick

    “We have a number and a roadmap.  Are we willing to actually address it?”

    If you aren’t willing to get rid of Measure J then your answer is no.

    Think globally act locally.

  2. Don Shor

    Davis homeless programs 2021-1

    The City of Davis Homeless Outreach Services team provides personalized needs assessment, in-field response, intensive case management, crisis intervention, homeless services resource connection with warm hand-offs, transportation, and provision of essential supplies that meet basic needs for people living in homelessness in Davis. Last fall, the City Council authorized the creation of a new Department of Social Services and Housing to provide a platform for the City to focus on and streamline its strategy to address homelessness. The 2019 Point-in-Time (PIT) count found 190 Davis people living unhoused in Davis. The most recent PIT count was conducted in February 2022 and results will be released at the end of April 2022.

    In brief, below are some of the additional recent programs for individuals experiencing homelessness in Davis:

    Davis Community Meals and Housing (DCMH): Pathways to Employment:

    o City grant funding concluded June 30, 2021, but the program has continued through DCMH’s regular operating budget.

    o The goal of the program is to provide individuals who are homeless the opportunity to increase their job skills and self-esteem resulting in a job that maximizes their potential. Jobs include beautifying downtown Davis, including landscaping, window washing, trash removal, and other employment opportunities as they are developed. A key component is to build community among the participants and celebrate their successes.

    o Funded through the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP): $129,000.

    Supportive Housing Program:
    o Renewed annually for over two decades, this federal grant approved by

    the local Continuum of Care and is based on a funding application jointly prepared by the City and DCMH. A scoring committee comprised of non- conflicted local Continuum of Care representatives scores the applications and submits prioritized recommendations to HUD.

    o Under the funded application, DCMH continues to provide a minimum of a ten-bed transitional shelter program in which individuals can stabilize themselves to find permanent housing, enhance their permanent income, increase employment skills and create a plan. Participants receive supportive services that include case management, life skills classes, substance use disorder counseling, employment counseling, mental health counseling, and referral to other local social services.

    o Funded through the HUD Continuum of Care Grants Program: $66,282.

    HEART of Davis (formerly IRWS):

    •   Davis Emergency Shelter Program (DESP) (October 1, 2020 July 31, 2021)

      The DESP housed up to 40 people (25 1-2 bedroom apartments) who were vulnerable to COVID-19 and either homeless or at risk of being homeless. The program participants were provided with emergency and transitional housing in the form of fully-furnished apartments in Davis. The program focuses on helping participants reach their goals, develop life skills, and find permanent housing. Services included:

      o Linkages to healthcare and other services
      o Connections to housing and social services o Weekly trips to Yolo Food Bank
      o One-site medical and behavioral health visits

    •   Emergency Winter Shelter Program (November 29, 2021 December 17, 2021)

    o This program provided overnight cold-weather shelter for 25-40 homeless individuals in fourteen 3-bedroom units at the Davis Migrant Center located south of Davis. Program participants were required to enroll in individualized case management to pursue permanent housing, as well as medical and behavioral health care services. Program participants were transported between the Respite Center and the Migrant Center daily. Breakfast and dinner options were also provided on a daily basis. The project was intended to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among those living homeless while establishing a path to secure permanent housing.

    HOPE Cooperative
    BRIDGE Program (August 1, 2021 May 31, 2022)

    o This program was initially managed by HEART of Davis but was turned over to HOPE Cooperative in January 2022. The City contributed $65,437 in CSBG-CARES funding.

    o This program provides rapid rehousing for up to 25 adults. Individuals are placed in apartments and pay up to 30% of their adjusted income in
    rent. The program provides case management services focused on housing and follow-up services for program participants. This proposal allows individuals to maintain non-shelter housing while waiting for housing vouchers and project-based housing.

    City of Davis
    Hotel Emergency Shelter Program:

    o This program started on December 18, 2021 and is expected to run through May 2022.The City is contributing $166,212 in ESG-CV2 funding.

    o The program was created in order to continue services after the Emergency Winter Shelter Program at the Migrant Center ceased operations.

    o 10 single occupancy rooms have been provided at a local hotel to house up to 10 medically vulnerable individuals. Individuals are enrolled in case management, medical health care services, and behavioral health services.

    Yolo County Housing Authority Getting to Zero (YCH):

    o YCH will conclude their involvement in June 2022.
    o The City contributed $118,333.34 in CSBG funding.
    o This program is operated under contract with Yolo County Housing. A

    temporary rental assistance program for individuals who receive “homeless” priority points in their application for subsidized housing provided by Yolo County Housing, this program provides a monthly rental subsidy to landlords. To be eligible for these extra priority points, code enforcement must determine that an individual has been displaced from a substandard living situation, and referred to Yolo Housing Authority by the Davis City Manager or his designee for being vulnerable. Applicants must

    meet all other requirements to qualify for the Getting to Zero Housing

    Voucher program.
    o Yolo Housing also provides support services and case management such

    as Move-In Assistance, Reimbursement of Property Damage and Case Management.

    CommuniCare Health Centers (CCHC):
    Daytime Respite Center for Unhoused Individuals:

    The Center opened February 2020 and City Council approved the continuation of the program through June 2023.To address some of the unmet need, the pilot daytime respite center aims to improve the quality of life for individuals experiencing homelessness in Davis. Open Monday – Saturday for eight hours, the daytime center provides a safe, temperature-controlled, and welcoming space where individuals can access basic needs resources and services, including:

    o Individualized case management, service linkages, and permanent housing plans for willing participants

    o Food
    o Restroom, shower, and laundry facilities
    o Veterinary Services (Davis PAW) and Pet kennels o Resting/lounging areas
    o Personal Storage
    o Bicycle and Temporary Vehicle parking

    County Efforts in Davis

    Yolo County:

    •   Project Room Key:

      Ended in Davis in November 2021.
      Project Room Key was a coordinated effort to secure hotel and motel rooms in counties across California (including Yolo) as temporary shelters for people experiencing homelessness who are at high-risk for hospitalization if they contract Coronavirus (COVID-19). High-risk includes seniors 65+ and/or those suffering from chronic illness. Program participants also received to the following services:

      o Access to food through Yolo Food Bank

    •   Yolo County HHSA CalWORKs

    o Aid in applying for Medi-Cal as well as help in understanding their qualifications for various benefits

    o Assistance in completing housing applications
    o Procurement of medical care, mental health screenings or substance use

    screening appointments
    o COVID-19 testing, as warranted

    o CalWORKs is a public assistance program that provides cash aid and services to eligible families that have a child(ren) in the home. The

    program serves all 58 counties in the state and is operated locally in Yolo

    County by the Health and Human Services Agency.
    o The program is designed for families with little or no cash and are in

    need of immediate and short-term help with housing, food, utilities, clothing or medical care. Families that apply and qualify for ongoing assistance receive money each month to help pay for housing, food and other necessary expenses.

    Other Efforts:

    Empower Yolo
    o Twenty-four hour crisis intervention, emergency shelter, confidential

    counseling, training, legal assistance, and other services for individuals and families affected by domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking, and child abuse;

    o Resource centers for community services to improve the health, social, educational and economic outcomes of Yolo County residents; and

    o Community outreach and educational programs about available resources to promote health, stability, and self-sufficiency for individuals and families.

    Yolo County Children’s Alliance (YCCA)
    o YCCA provides individuals assistance with eviction prevention, rent and

    utilizes relief, move in costs, financial assistance, long-term case management Eviction Prevention: YCCA Housing Navigators can refer and/or help clients apply to financial assistance for rent past due. YCCA can also provide referrals for legal services.

    o YCCA Housing Navigators provide available assistance, resources and referrals to partner agencies for families experiencing homelessness or at risk of being homeless.

    Yolo Crisis Nursery (YCN)
    o YCN was established to be a comprehensive resource for families during

    times of crisis.
    o Provides 24 hours per day crisis and respite care that is available to

    newborns through 5-year-old children whenever their parents face a challenge in providing safe care for them and connections to community resources for crisis resolution.

    o YCN’s infant daycare and preschool is available to children of families transitioning out of crises.

    Short Term Emergency Aid Committee (STEAC)
    o STEAC is a non-profit that provides immediate, short-term emergency aid

    to families and individuals with incomes at or below the federal poverty level who live in Yolo County. Assistance includes providing help with food, rental, utility and job readiness.

    Yolo Community Care Continuum (YCCC)
    o Non-profit agency that provides an array of community-based programs

    for people experiencing a psychiatric disability. YCCC has been providing services in Northern California since 1979. Each service is designed to meet the individual needs at specific points in the recovery process.

    o Twenty-four-hour supervision is offered in three residential programs. Supported housing offers an opportunity to live more independently in the community while receiving the support needed to be successful. YCCC’s homeless outreach program assists individuals to get a psychiatric evaluation, substance abuse treatment, government benefit filings and help with accessing medications through the Patient Assistance Program (PAP).

    Davis Pet Advocacy and Wellness (DPAW)
    o DPAW is a veterinary clinic serving those experiencing homelessness in

    the Davis community. The volunteer team that operates the program consists of community members, veterinarians, veterinary students, and undergraduate volunteers dedicated to education, building community, and providing quality veterinary care to the animal companions of our clients. DPAW provides services at the Respite Center once a month.

    Paul’s Place:
    A new multi-functional structure designed to serve the most vulnerable individuals living homeless in Davis by providing housing and wraparound services. This center replaces and improves the dilapidated Davis Community Meals and Housing (DCMH) facility that has operated at 1111 H Street for decades. The duplex on 1101 H Street was purchased by the city as a temporary location to continue services during construction (and will continue to provide space for very low income individuals once Paul’s Place opens, although the specific population/program(s) have not yet been identified).
    Paul’s Place will include:

    o A first floor Resource Center with enhanced program space to connect participants with public benefits, housing and employment opportunities, and health and human services as well as basic needs for food, clothing, showers, restrooms, and laundry facilities. The first floor also includes 4 emergency shelter beds.

    o The second floor features transitional housing that will provide 10 single residence bedrooms, a communal kitchen, family room, bathrooms and laundry.

    o The third and fourth floors will have a total of 18 micro-unit apartments of permanent supportive housing, two of which will be accessible for those with physical disabilities, and where all residents will have access to wraparound services to help ensure stability and independence.

    o The Paul’s Place project is a joint partnership partnership between Davis Opportunity Village (DOVe) and Davis Community, Meals and Housing.

    1. Richard_McCann

      Lots of programs but they only address the superficial symptoms and not the underlying causes. In addition to leaving many of these people outside of permanent housing, they are also more costly per individual than solving the real problem as discussed in David’s article.

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