“Popeye” was a fixture on a Pasadena freeway offramp for more than 15 years until he was hit by a car and badly hurt. Paramedics took Popeye to a hospital, where he spent two months recovering, one of many costly medical crises.
He fit the profile of a difficult-to-engage homeless Californian, but when housed in an affordable apartment with access to services stabilizing his medical and behavioral health, Popeye’s homelessness ended. So, too, did his trips to hospitals.
Cities do make a difference when their public pronouncements to end homelessness are coupled with money for supportive housing. Communities, however, do not have limitless funds; states have an obligation to match local resolve with resources to create affordable and supportive housing. Cities that successfully address homelessness elsewhere in the country partner with their state leaders, who recognize homelessness is not simply a local issue.
In California, a number of legislative solutions could help turn the corner. But Saturday, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed one of these solutions – Assembly Bill 35, which would have increased state housing tax credits by $100 million a year for five years, bringing an additional $1 billion in federal funds to build affordable housing and creating an additional 7,000 jobs.
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In his veto message, the governor cited fiscal issues. Yet, increases in the number of homeless Californians is a long-term fiscal and moral crisis. When homeless people die 25 to 30 years younger than other Californians, and when each person living on the streets costs local and state governments nearly $3,000 per month, we’re clearly headed for disaster unless the state acts as if it is facing an emergency.
California is seeing an upsurge in the number of people experiencing homelessness in part because state government has disinvested in affordable development. Funding once available from redevelopment agencies is gone. Voter-approved housing bond funds have dried up. Mental Health Services Act housing money is largely exhausted. Without this help, the burden has fallen on the shoulders of local governments.
In 2016, the Legislature and governor should take steps to face this emergency. They should find a dedicated funding source for affordable housing, support legislation permitting mixed-income zoning ordinances, include budget items to address homelessness and housing instability, and embrace former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s revenue bond.
The governor and Legislature must recognize that they play a crucial role in ending the suffering of 130,000 Californians experiencing homelessness, at great costs to our state. It is time they recognize the answer to ending homelessness is a home.
Sharon Rapport is associate director of California Policy for the Corporation for Supportive Housing. Shamus Roller is executive director of Housing California.