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California Homelessness Study Highlights Root Causes

Multiple tents along a sidewalk draped with tarps

The 171,000 people experiencing homelessness daily in California comprise approximately 30 percent and 50 percent of the nation’s homeless and unsheltered populations, respectively. To better understand the circumstances surrounding these populations, the University of California San Francisco’s Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative (BHHI) unveiled a groundbreaking study titled The California Statewide Study of People Experiencing Homelessness (CASPEH).

The study sheds light on the causes and consequences of homelessness in California by coupling surveys with in-depth interviews to unveil crucial insights and policy recommendations. Some major takeaways include:

  • Unaffordable Housing Costs: A significant finding was that the cost of housing had become unsustainable for many participants, revealing the dire impact of escalating housing prices on homelessness. The study revealed that participants had a median monthly household income of $960 in the six months prior to experiencing homelessness, and a high proportion had been rent burdened.

  • Demographic Discrepancies: The survey highlighted demographic trends within California's homeless population. Notably, 44 percent of adults experiencing homelessness were aged 50 or older. Moreover, Black and Native Americans were disproportionately represented among the homeless population. The study dispelled misconceptions about homeless migration, revealing that the vast majority (90 percent) of participants had lost their last housing within California.

  • Mental Health Challenges: The study underscored the vulnerability of individuals experiencing homelessness, many of whom had encountered trauma throughout their lives. Mental health and substance use challenges were prevalent, with two-thirds reporting current mental health symptoms and a majority (over 60 percent) reporting a period of their life where they regularly used illicit drugs or drank heavily. Moreover, more than a third had experienced physical or sexual violence during their episode of homelessness.

This study drives home the urgent need for comprehensive and integrated support systems to address homelessness effectively. The recommendations provided by CASPEH include increasing access to affordable housing in extremely low-income households, expanding homelessness prevention efforts, bolstering behavioral health support catered to specified populations, increasing household incomes via employment supports, improving outreach to homeless populations, and incorporating a racial equity approach into homeless system service delivery.

The findings of the CASPEH study provide a foundation for shaping policies and strategies aimed at combating the homelessness crisis in California.


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