Homeless crisis needs a regional solution

The Bay Area’s homeless crisis ranks among the most severe in the United States. More than 28,000 people—a population as large or larger than 50 of the region’s 101 cities—across the nine-county Bay Area suffer from homelessness, making the region’s homeless population the third largest in the country, behind only New York and Los Angeles.

The Bay Area also has among the highest level of unsheltered homeless in the country, with 67 percent living on the streets, in tents or cars, among other places. The total homeless figure, which is drawn from local point-in-time count data, is likely much higher and also does not include people who might be sleeping on a friend’s couch or similar situation.

The Bay Area’s homeless crisis is a regional humanitarian crisis that does not abide traditional local boundaries. One city, one county alone cannot solve homelessness, but that’s largely how we’ve been approaching it. Here are our recommendations:

  • Consolidate existing state programs into a new California Homeless Services Agency
  • Require regional homeless management plans that would be updated every two years
  • Launch two regional joint task forces to better understand and direct funding streams and leverage technology to better manage provision and access of services
  • Create a new state tax credit program dedicated to construction of housing for extremely low-income households that are at most risk of falling into homelessness
  • Dramatically expand the supply of permanent support housing, emergency and longer-term shelters and other spaces based on current and projected needs across the region
  • Expand and better tailor homeless prevention and diversion programs to serve specific populations and needs
  • Simplify and strengthen local approval process for creating all types of homeless-serving housing, including emergency shelters, permanent supportive housing and more
  • Develop regional models to attract greater private and philanthropic investment

Some cities and counties carry a disproportionate share of responsibility for providing housing, services and programs to a homeless population that is highly mobile. The disconnections create a system that cannot optimize resources or plan for a solution at scale.

The Bay Area has the brains, the brawn, the heart and the resources to end the scourge of homelessness. But it will take all of us working together at a regional level to do it. We’re finding cures for cancer and HIV and other deadly diseases, we’re developing incredible technologies that are changing the world and improving lives across the globe. We can also end homelessness.

The larger regional housing crisis is a driving cause of homelessness, but there is also a dearth of various types of housing—emergency shelters, permanent supportive housing, extremely low-income housing (for people earning 30 percent or less of average median income)—needed to address the problem directly.

The problem is urgent and requires meaningful commitments across sectors. We hope the findings of this study can serve as an important catalyst for regional collaboration to end homelessness.

Micah Weinberg,  president, Bay Area Council Economic Institute; Jim Wunderman, president and CEO, Bay Area Council; Kausik Rajgopal, McKinsey & Company

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