The homelessness crisis is growing in California. Despite some policies and budgets implemented, many more people are living on the streets with no long-term solutions.
According to federal statistics from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 28% (161,548 people) of California’s population is homeless.
However, homelessness is not only related to the lack of affordability for people with mental illness or substance use issues but has increased due to a lack of housing policies and access to credit.
A 2021 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that a person in California who works an average 40-hour week needs to earn $39.03 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Considering the state minimum wage, $14 an hour, citizens would have to work 112 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom rental home.
California accounts for more than half of all homeless people in the United States, and 70% of homeless people in California live on the street. Governor Newsom presented a $12 billion budget to address homelessness over two years and another $10.3 billion to build affordable housing.
Jason Elliott, the senior adviser to the governor, said that while Californians’ discontent is strong, he is proud of the more than 58,000 people who have been taken off the streets since the pandemic erupted with Newsom’s Roomkey Project, which moved homeless people into hotels, and Homekey Project, which created long-term housing, as the Governor’s official website informed.
Many Californians say these one-time grants are not the kind of solution for the homeless, according to The Mercury News. Moving people out of encampments and temporary shelters is not a solution without affordable housing.
“I think we would want to look at it a little bit more holistically,” said Christopher Martin, policy director for the advocacy organization Housing California. “We need to address all facets of homelessness, not just encampments,” he added.
San Francisco, Seattle, and Tampa, Fla., have run encampment programs in fenced parking lots, but Los Angeles’ statewide cost (is more than $2,600 per tent per month).
For example, the fenced campground next to the 101 Freeway in East Hollywood has space for 70 tents in 3.65 x 3.65 spots marked with white squares painted on the asphalt.
The camp represents a high state cost and is more expensive than renting a typical one-bedroom apartment in the city, according to the website RentCafe, NPR reported.
While the camp’s cost per tent covers utilities, food, sanitation, and staff, some experts are concerned that it may not be a long-term solution.
On the other hand, Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino wants to ban camping on sidewalks and parks altogether. But to make it legally possible, he must provide an alternative, long-term solution.
Michelle Milam, crime prevention manager for the Richmond Police Department and a member of city homelessness, explained that clearing an encampment of more than 100 people living on Castro Street in cars, RVs, and trailers is not that easy. “It’s more than just closing down an encampment. It’s making sure people have an opportunity to successfully transition,” Milam said.
“We’re drowning,” Milam added, “The funding helps. We’re very appreciative of the funding. But there’s got to be more at the policy level to help us come up with some creative solutions to try to support people.”
He also explained that when Richmond worked to open a safe parking site for people living in mobile homes, a group of people objected, and the state abandoned the idea. Milam asserts that the state must step in and find solutions in such situations.
Angelina Peña, a Californian citizen, who lives in an RV in the Castro Street encampment in Richmond, has given up hope of owning her own home. She opened a thrift store and regained custody of her two children; she earns $18 an hour doing outreach for the nonprofit Safe and Organized Spaces three days a week. “I’m not going to depend on them. I can’t,” she said. “It’s hard to take their word for it because they haven’t come through.”