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New Data Challenges Misconceptions About Unhoused Individuals in the Golden State

California’s Homeless Population Predominantly Comprised of Locals

By Dolores Quintana

According to a recent study from the University of California, San Francisco, the state of California does not attract “swarms of unhoused people from other states.” The largest study on the subject since the 1990s found that 90% of unhoused individuals in California became homeless in the state, with 75% experiencing homelessness in the same county where they currently reside. Nine out of ten of those surveyed lost their last housing in California. The primary reasons for homelessness are the inability to afford housing, health issues, and employment challenges. Almost half of those surveyed were looking for work. 

Margot Kushel, MD, Director of UCSF BHHI and principal investigator of CASPEH, said, “The results of the study confirm that far too many Californians experience homelessness because they cannot afford housing. Through thousands of survey responses and hundreds of in-depth interviews, the study’s findings reflect the incalculable personal costs of homelessness. Our policy recommendations aim to inform solutions to the homelessness crisis.” 

Evictions are a significant contributor to the rise in homelessness. In the last six months, 96.4% of the 39,677 evictions filed in the city were due to “non-payment of rent.” This indicates that many unhoused individuals in California are not outsiders but rather locals who have lost their housing due to financial constraints.

Twenty-one percent of leaseholders cited a loss of income as the main reason that they lost their last housing. Among non-leaseholders, 13% noted a conflict within the household, and 11% noted not wanting to impose. For leaseholders, economic considerations frequently interacted with social and health crises. For example, participants (or household members) health crises led them to lose their job. 

Many were unaware of local and state programs designed to help people at risk of homelessness or to help bring them off the street. The report states, “A low proportion of those who entered homelessness from housing situations had sought or received homelessness prevention services. Many participants were unaware of these services. Overall, 36% of participants had sought help to prevent homelessness, but most sought help from friends or family rather than non-profits or government agencies.”

Most of them are Californians facing significant financial hardships and cannot earn enough to afford housing within their own state. The homeless population in California consists of a diverse group, with individuals from certain vulnerable backgrounds, those who have experienced trauma, and racial minorities being overrepresented. The median age of participants in homeless services is 47, and Black and Native American or Indigenous individuals are overrepresented compared to the overall California population—thirty-five percent of participants identified as Latino/x. 

Forty-five percent of all participants reported their health as poor or fair; 60% reported a chronic disease. Over one-third of all participants (34%) reported a limitation in an activity of daily living, and 22% reported a mobility limitation. 

Prolonged periods of homelessness are also common, with 39% of participants experiencing their first episode of homelessness. The median length of homelessness is 22 months, and over one-third meet federal chronic homelessness criteria.

Many unhoused individuals have faced discrimination, exposure to violence, and incarceration, as well as mental health conditions and substance use issues. These factors compound to increase their vulnerability to homelessness. Around 72% of participants experienced physical violence in their lifetime, and 24% experienced sexual violence, with higher rates among cis-women and transgender or nonbinary individuals.

The high housing costs and low income left the participants in the survey vulnerable to homelessness. In the six months before experiencing homelessness, the median monthly household income was $960, indicating significant financial instability. Many participants entered homelessness from non-leaseholder or leaseholder housing situations, highlighting the lack of stable housing options available.

In conclusion, the homeless population in California is predominantly made up of Californians who have faced various challenges, including financial hardships, health issues, and experiences of discrimination and trauma. Addressing homelessness requires comprehensive and compassionate solutions that address the root causes of homelessness and provide support and resources to those in need.

According to statistics quoted by Kenneth Meija, Los Angeles City Controller, on his Twitter profile, confirming some of the data from the study, “From Feb 1 to July 31, 2023, in the City of LA: 39,677 evictions were filed, 96.40% were for “non-payment of rent,” 99.88% were “At-Fault,” 93.46% came w/ a 3-day notice, $155.7M accumulated rent owed. Meija listed the number of evictions filed in each council district’s first six months of the year. In Council District 5, there were 3,857 evictions filed. In Council District 11, there were 2,699. In Council District 10, there were 3,697. 

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