CCRE SPECIAL EVENT: Solutions to Address Homelessness
CCRE convened a panel of experts and leaders to discuss the best current strategies for addressing homelessness in California. Panelists included Dr. Richard Cho, Senior Advisor for Housing and Services at the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development; Julie Lo, Executive Director of California’s Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council; Colleen Murphy, Manager of Unsheltered Strategies for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority; and Ned Resnikoff, Policy Manager at Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative at UCSF. The panel was moderated by KPCC & LAist Unhoused Communities Reporter, Ethan Ward.
Participants debunked common myths about homelessness. One myth is that the majority of people experiencing homelessness in California come from other states to live here for the good weather, and have not contributed to the local economy. Dr. Murphy and Mr. Resnikoff cited research that shows that the majority of unhoused people in the state are from California, paid taxes in California and were previously housed in California. Another myth is that the majority of unhoused people in the state suffer from mental health issues or substance abuse. While those factors do exist and can compound the effects of being unhoused, Dr. Murphy said that research shows that instead of being chronically unhoused, the majority of people experiencing homelessness in the state are new to homelessness that year, and that a lack of affordable housing is to blame. Mr. Resnikoff pointed out that while another common myth says that people experiencing homelessness are unwilling to work, the facts show that a lot of people who are homeless or unsheltered are actually working and that, due to depressed wages, they are unable to find work that covers the cost of housing.
Dr. Cho and Ms. Lo explained that we now know what works to combat homelessness: a “housing first” approach that allows homeless people to find permanent housing then allows people to secure better resources, jobs, and a plaform for self-agency. Increasing the supply of housing available is crucial to addressing the problem, and it works. Mr. Resnikoff and all panelists discussed how recent successes with projects such as Project RoomKey, that provided state-rented hotel and motel rooms to homeless invididuals and families using federally allocated funds and increased life-saving among unsheltered people by 50 percent within six months (per Ms. Lo), and the following Project HomeKey, that purchased many permanent units, have shown that much can be done quickly, given sufficient public resources and political will.
Mr. Resnikoff analyzed how the lack of affordable housing across the board in California is also contributing to the rise in homelessness, and ting the long-term lack of housing supply will help all communities. Ms. Murphy discussed how lack of affordable housing combines with chronically depressed wages and structural racism to keep people in housing unsecurity. Often BIPOC people can’t find housing to rent because of inherent biases among landlords and property owners.
A factor that Ms. Murphy and all panelists agreed exacerbates homelessness and lack of services is that the social service sector is prone to burnout, low pay and a lack of staff support. Professionalizing social services will be crucial to providing better support to all communities.