How to Tackle An Increase in Homelessness?

Can Expanding Housing First Through Combining Proposed Rental Assistance and Services Funding Solve Homeless Crisis in California and Beyond?

The State of California and its homeless crisis has been under increasing criticism from President Trump.

But how do you end homelessness no matter the size of the state or the size of the population experiencing homelessness? One national best practice which has been proven to end homelessness is Housing First which is already also a best practice in California.

As background, last week, NPR reported that “California Governor Pushes $1.4 Billion Plan To Tackle Homelessness’.” California’s Governor Gavin Newsom will ask state lawmakers to approve more than $1 billion in additional funding to address and end the state’s growing homelessness problem.

This proposed new state investment will fund rental assistance and the creation of affordable housing which will be paid for through over half of the proposed new funding. According to NPR, the funding would also create more shelter beds and assist with services and treatment, paid for through Medicaid, for those experiencing homelessness.

Rental assistance and affordable housing, through rental vouchers, can be both the short- and long-term end homelessness. Some households experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness need short-term rental assistance to help them whether a crisis and either remain house or rapidly find new, affordable housing.

Other households need longer-term rental assistance given the high cost of housing which wages are not keeping up with. If someone in the household has a disability, income through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is not enough on its own to cover rent and those households may also need services attached to the affordable housing.

On the services funding side, about half of Governor Newsome’s proposed funding would be invested in increasing California’s Medicaid programs expanding services for homeless individuals whose housing struggles are directly linked to health problems.

Much of the criticism of the homelessness crisis in California is targeted towards individuals living outside in homeless encampments. New state funding for housing assistance, whether that comes in the form of vouchers or physical development and expanding services through Medicaid funding could allow for new Housing First housing in California.

Housing First is an evidence based best practice designed to end homelessness and support recovery by housing individuals as quickly as possible and then wrapping services around them as needed.

Housing First would allow those individuals living outside and in encampments who were interested in housing move into their own housing. Then, once stabilized, these formerly homeless indivdiuals would receive the services they might need to stabilize their lives.

The Housing First model proves effective in housing a wide variety of homeless population subsets including chronically homeless households and families and the general homeless population. Within this model, housing is not contingent upon participation in services which are designed to promote housing stability.

As of 2019, by law, the State of California requires that all state funding for homeless programs to incorporate Housing First into their programs. Here in New Jersey, New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) invests significantly in Housing First as a solution to chronic homelessness in New Jersey.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has reported that there are 151,000 people experiencing homelessness in California. This number is more than 25% of the United States’ homeless population. While many states saw homelessness decrease over the past year, California has seen a 16% increase in its homeless population.