Just Released: New Study Explores Causes and Experiences of Homelessness, Barriers to Exiting to Housing
June 22, 2023
This week, the University of California San Francisco Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative released a long-awaited study on the causes and experiences of people experiencing homelessness in California. The representative study, Toward a New Understanding: The California Statewide Study of People Experiencing Homelessness, was compiled after 13 months of data collection between October 2021-November 2022. The research team conducted nearly 3,200 administered questionnaires and 365 in-depth interviews with adults experiencing homelessness in eight counties representing eight different regions across the state. The questions asked were designed to understand who in California is experiencing homelessness, how they came to be homeless, their experiences while unhoused, and what prevents them from existing homelessness.
The findings of the study dispel common myths often raised during policy debates around homelessness. For example, 90% of participants lost their last housing in California, and 75% of participants lost their last housing in the same county they currently reside in. This counters the common narrative that people come to California after losing their housing in another state or country. In addition, nearly every participant expressed interest in obtaining permanent housing. While a range of barriers prevented participants from obtaining housing, 89% of participants indicated that high housing costs negatively impacted their ability to exit homelessness and nearly all participants indicated that a financial subsidy or housing voucher would help them exit homelessness.
The study concludes with a range of policy recommendations for local, state, and federal policymakers, including increasing affordable housing access for low-income households, expanding homelessness prevention services and interventions, ensuring the availability of robust behavioral health services and supports, and embedding racial equity approaches into the homeless delivery system. The findings and policy recommendations in the study align with the CSAC’s AT HOME Plan, which includes an array of proposals related to housing affordability, strengthening safety net programs, increasing access to services, and creating pathways for self-sufficiency.
As stated in the final chapter of the report, “Ending the homelessness crisis will take time and demand resources and coordination between local, state, and federal entities.” Counties agree that no one level of government is solely responsible for the homelessness crisis, nor is one level of government able to significantly curb the growing crisis alone. As the Legislature and Administration finalize this year’s budget details, CSAC continues to advocate for the adoption of the Accountability Pillar of AT HOME, which calls for clearly defined roles and responsibilities, coordinated regional plans, and ongoing funding tied to measurable results.