LOS ANGELES — To assist local communities in preventing and addressing homelessness, a bipartisan coalition of members from the California State Senate introduced a strategic and first-of-its kind “No Place like Home” initiative at a press conference at The Star Apartments on Skid Row in Los Angeles on Monday. This unprecedented policy framework amounting to over $2 billion in support builds on years of research and best practices and is guided by the core belief that no individual or family in California should ever experience the uncertainty and pain of living without a home.
“This bipartisan legislative package will help secure progress in tackling homelessness and provide a key to health and hope for many Californians who have no place to go.” said Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles). “Coming off the holiday season, I can think of no better way to start the legislative session than in Skid Row focused on lifting those without voices in our political process.”
“This is a tipping-point moment for mental health, homelessness, and Proposition 63 in California.” Said former Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, co-author of Proposition 63 (2004) – The Mental Health Services Act – and founder The Steinberg Institute. “Thanks to the leadership of this Senate, we have a historic opportunity to help local communities forge systemic long-term solutions, making a real difference in the lives of thousands of forgotten Californians.”
The Senate proposal is crafted with the understanding that fighting modern homelessness – with long-term solutions, not short-term band-aids – requires a localized approach sustained by a strategic statewide commitment.
The proposals will empower local governments with additional resources and flexibility to better serve homeless individuals and families, increase access to affordable housing, address the effects of income inequality and, and extend proven programs for homeless who are either disabled or in need of mental-health assistance.
California has the nation’s largest homeless population while ranking as the seventh largest economy of the world at the same time. The 114,000 total homeless people who live across our state make up 22 percent of the nation’s homeless population, with Los Angeles holding the dubious ranking of the homeless capital of the country with nearly 42,000 homeless residents.
The Senate legislative package on homelessness re-purposes Proposition 63 (2004) – The Mental Health Services Act – bond money and creatively leverages billions of additional dollars from other local, state, and federal funding to achieve the following goals:
- $2 billion bond to construct permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless persons with mental illness.
- $200 million, over 4 years, to provide supportive housing in the shorter-term, rent subsidies, while the permanent housing is constructed or rehabilitated.
- Support for two special housing programs that will assist families:
The “Bringing Families Home” pilot project, a county matching grant program to reduce homelessness among families that are part of the child welfare system.
The CalWORKs Housing Support Program, which provides housing and support services for CalWORKs families in danger of homelessness.
Income support and outreach:
- An increase in Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP) program grants which provide income support for the aged, blind, and disabled poor who cannot work. Rates of homelessness are higher for persons with disabilities who cannot work; SSI/SSP is intended to help them make ends meet, and a large portion of grants usually goes toward rent.
- These increases will assist about 1.3 million low-income Californians (72% with disabilities and 28% who are elderly).
- A one-time investment to incentivize local governments to boost outreach efforts and advocacy to get more eligible poor people enrolled in the SSI/SSP program. The federal government covers 72% of the total costs of the SSI/SSP program, so state and local benefits are multiplied significantly for each newly eligible recipient.
California has more than one third of the nation’s chronically homeless – those with mental illness or other significant problems, and an even higher percentage among homeless women. Of the 28,200 chronically homeless in California, nearly 85 percent are unsheltered with this group absorbing the greatest amount of taxpayers’ resources, often toping $100,000 annually per person in public costs for emergency room visits, hospital stays, law enforcement, and other social services.
The Senate proposal supports a “housing first” strategy which many homeless advocates and social service experts across the state prefer because it provides safe, secure housing creates an environment that allows for wrap-around services, such as mental health treatment, to take hold. Studies show homelessness aggravates mental illness, making it more difficult to reach and house those with the greatest need of shelter and treatment.
There are local programs, such as Project 25 in San Diego, which are successfully housing, treating, and transitioning chronically homeless clients back into society. Project 25 is a 3-year-pilot program funded by the United Way of San Diego and led by St. Vincent de Paul which uses the housing first model as a means of intensive case management and delivery of psychiatric and medical care to several dozen clients. Project 25 is paying dividends for the taxpayers. In two years the annual public costs related to participants of Project 25 were reduced nearly 63 percent, to $1.6 million from $4.3 million.