Soapbox

Cities and counties are on the front lines of homelessness

Trash from homeless encampments lines a street in San Diego last September. The explosive growth in the number of people living outdoors has contributed to a hepatitis A outbreak.
Trash from homeless encampments lines a street in San Diego last September. The explosive growth in the number of people living outdoors has contributed to a hepatitis A outbreak. AP Photo

Of all the problems our state and local governments are trying to solve, homelessness is among the most important and challenging. The number of homeless people in California has climbed dramatically in recent years, to about 134,000, though experts agree the actual number is probably far higher. Their lives are literally hanging in the balance.

Solving homelessness is costly and complex, but the financial and societal costs are far greater if we do not tackle this issue now. In recent months we have seen a hepatitis outbreak in San Diego and destructive wildfires in Los Angeles linked to people trying to live without the sanitary and cooking facilities most of us take for granted.

To that end, the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties released a report Thursday from our joint homelessness task force. This group of local officials met for more than a year to explore the major causes and identify effective local programs. The report details state and federal resources that local governments can leverage to create a path to housing and self-sufficiency.

Opinion

The report also notes that mental illness and drug abuse can cause homelessness, but housing and health care costs, job loss and other life-changing events are also factors. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, which is why effective local programs are also diverse.

With a housing voucher program in Marin County, a streamlined process to approve temporary shelters in San Jose, an outreach team in Anaheim and tiny-home communities in Yuba County and Fresno, local governments are thinking outside the box. They are finding ways to get people into shelters, into programs that address the causes of their homelessness and eventually into permanent homes.

Carolyn Coleman.jpg
Carolyn Coleman

The report finds that flexibility is a key factor. An approach that works well in an urban core may not have the same impact in a rural community. Collaboration is also crucial among cities, counties, community groups and nonprofits.

Matt Cate Headshot.jpg
Matt Cate

As the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown continue their work on homelessness and affordable housing, we urge them to take this report into account. Many local governments are finding success, but need additional resources to meet the sizable need. We also urge local governments and nonprofits to put its information and resources to use. Solutions are available, but it’s now up to all of us to implement them.

Carolyn Coleman is executive director of the League of California Cities and can be contacted at ccoleman@cacities.org. Matt Cate is executive director of the California State Association of Counties and can be contacted at mcate@counties.org.

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