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Housing Scarcity, Economic Recession, and Climate Disaster: California’s Homeless Bear the Brunt of Simultaneous Crises

Homeless Camp

May 25, 2021

By Jake Nieto, Analyst

California is experiencing multiple simultaneous crises. Housing throughout the state is becoming more expensive and less affordable. Temperatures are steadily rising each year and wildfires have been rampant, destroying nearly 40,000 structures from 2015 to 2019. Not to mention the pandemic-induced economic recession, which has decreased employment opportunities for many of California’s residents who are at-risk of homelessness. Although a recovery is well under way currently, jobless claims in California were at 95,958 in April 2021, more than twice as many in February 2020.

By now, we’re likely all aware of these crises as they have affected us personally or our loved ones in profound ways. Most of us have steep rent or mortgage payments. We all deal with the sweltering mid-Summer heat and have seen wildfires rage through Napa and Los Angeles. Our employment has been affected in one way or another. These simultaneous crises have affected each of us to varying degrees, but it’s important to consider how they have affected California’s most vulnerable population: the homeless.

California not only has the highest number of homeless persons in the nation, but our homeless population is fairing considerably worse than in other states. In a report published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development, California is home to more than 161,000 homeless individuals. Of those, 70% are unsheltered. California alone harbors 51% of the nation’s unsheltered homeless population. Furthermore, these are all pre-pandemic figures. The actual numbers have likely worsened considerably since they were published.

Our State government launched Project Homekey in March 2020 to alleviate homelessness and combat the spread of COVID-19 by providing $600 million in grant funding to local public entities for converting temporary non-congregate housing into homeless shelters. As of December 2020, this initiative has produced at least 6,000 housing units for our state’s homeless population, according to the Governor’s Office. Unfortunately, that number pales in comparison to the number of housing units needed to end California’s housing crisis and provide permanent, stable homes for our homeless neighbors.

Official estimates for the number of additional housing units needed to shelter all Californians vary between 1.2 million and 3.4 million. 6,000 temporary housing units for California’s homeless population is a start, but California has a long way to go. With summers getting hotter, housing becoming more expensive, and the economic recovery barely getting underway, it is important for all Californians and our governments to remain mindful of our state’s homeless population. Solving California’s housing crisis and transitioning our homeless population into permanent housing will require coordination starting from our local townhall meetings all the way up to the Governor’s Office and beyond to the Federal Government. RSG aspires to be at the forefront of addressing homelessness in California through our partnerships with local public entities and non-profit organizations.