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Alleviation of Homelessness in California


California is one of the states with the largest number of homeless persons in the US. Homeless people in the US are among the most marginalized individuals, and they disproportionately experience high cases of mortality and morbidity, thus making homelessness a public health concern. Over 150,000 people in California sleep on the streets, in shelters, or in cars. According to Levin, a report by the United Nations once “compared the tent encampments of San Francisco to the slums of New Delhi and Mexico City. Nearly 5,000 people live in the half square mile of Los Angeles’ Skid Row.” However, this problem could be solved and improve the welfare of Californians by following strategies that have worked in other states. This paper discusses five ways that could be used to alleviate homelessness in California. For every strategy, this paper offers an opposing view and a rebuttal to the same highlighting why such views refuting points fall short.

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Addressing Homelessness in California

The first approach to ending chronic homelessness in California is through permanent supportive housing. According to the Corporation for Supportive Housing, for people who cannot afford housing stability, availing a low-priced house is “only one piece of the puzzle to solving their homelessness: they not only need a place to live that is affordable, without a limit to their length of stay (“permanent” housing)” (10). Supportive housing is cost-effective, and the resources dedicated to such programs are almost the same as those used in maintaining homelessness. Therefore, California should create a housing trust fund and source for support by engaging the federal government, private investment, and philanthropy. This fund will help those in chronic homelessness by giving them capital to build, rehabilitate, or acquire houses. Second, it could be used to subsidize rent for those in extreme poverty levels or pay for services provided to tenants.

Critics may argue that such an approach is unattainable in the long term because it is expensive. In other words, such an approach to ending homelessness in California would be bound to fail from the onset. However, such an argument is based on sentimentalism and lack of information. The available data shows that, between 2008 and 2009, permanent supportive housing reduced homelessness by 10 percent at the national level (Corporation for Supportive Housing). Additionally, the average length of stay in supportive housing is almost the same as that of staying in any rental housing. Therefore, this approach is sustainable in the long-term term. Similarly, on cost-effectiveness, the cost of running a permanent supportive housing program is the same as what is incurred supporting homelessness.

The second strategy that could be used in the alleviation of this problem is through investing in low-cost housing. Homelessness is a direct outcome of not having enough money to afford to rent the available houses in the market. Martin argues that the loss of low-income housing is the major contributing factor to the problem of homelessness (71). With low-cost housing, people could afford to pay for rent even when they earn minimum wage. Therefore, in collaboration with the federal government, the state authorities could come up with an elaborate strategy to ensure that low-cost houses are available to those who need them. This would involve focusing on the long-term picture and becoming proactive in achieving this objective. Friendly policies should be made to allow private developers to take part in this approach and cover the areas that the federal and state governments may not address.

This argument could be countered by the claim that low-cost housing is a long-term process that does not address the immediate problem of homelessness. While this might be true, research has shown that the cumulative social cost of focusing on short-term solutions, such as the contiguous amelioration of homelessness, could be more expensive than creating low-cost housing (Martin 73). In addition, it could also be said that the government does not have the resources needed to execute such a project. However, Martin argues that the government has the capacity to “build, operate, and subsidize low-income housing so that no one would be forced to be homeless” (73). Therefore, low-cost housing will significantly solve the problem of homelessness in California in the long term, and this approach is sustainable and achievable.

Another appropriate approach to this issue could be through service integration. Guerrero et al. posit that populations affected by homelessness “range from youth to older adults and the experience of homelessness often intersects with serious mental illness, substance use, and a host of other health risks, thus presenting many challenges to service integration” (44). One major problem associated with homelessness is that of health-related factors, such as drug abuse, mental illnesses, and other similar aspects. Such people lack the capacity or the credibility to afford or access decent housing facilities due to various reasons, including sobriety and job training. Therefore, an integrated care system for homeless people, especially those with health-related problems, would provide the needed solutions for them to be back on their feet and be reintegrated into a society where they can work and afford to pay for housing. One way to ensure an integrated service delivery system is through policy. Therefore, legislators in California should look into this issue and come up with a strategy based on the present homelessness needs.

Critics would argue that this approach is misplaced, as the role of healthcare provision is not to ensure that people are healthy as opposed to solving housing problems. In other words, there is no direct link between healthcare and homelessness. However, such a claim fails to acknowledge the strong correlation between healthy people and reduced homelessness. As mentioned earlier, people with mental illnesses or substance abuse problems form a significant number of the homeless. Therefore, by creating an integrated service system to address these underlying health problems, such individuals are put on the path to recovery, and once they become productive, they can afford to rent a place to live.

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The fourth strategy that policymakers could use to alleviate homelessness in California is through increasing minimum wage and addressing unemployment. Homelessness is a question of poverty – in other words, poor people are not in a position to afford rent, thus they sleep in shelters, cars, or on the streets. Increases in low wages are minimal, and they cannot keep pace with growing house prices. According to Levin, in San Francisco, for every one person or family is housed, three become homeless. The underlying issue behind this trend is that people cannot afford to pay for their rent. Therefore, increasing the minimum wage will give the affected people the much-needed financial resources to cater to their bills, including rent. Additionally, the issue of unemployment contributes significantly to homelessness (Sharam and Hulse 295). Without a source of income, no matter how small the amount, it means that individuals do not have money to meet their daily needs, leave alone housing. Consequently, creating employment would give people the ability to secure a good place to live.

An opposing view of this claim would be that raising the minimum wage would drive companies out of business because they will lack the competitive advantage of the availability of cheap labor. Additionally, it could be argued that unemployment is a global problem that could not be addressed at the state level. However, Gerhart and Fang note that paying employees well according to their skills increases their performance, hence that of the organization (494). Therefore, raising the minimum wage could be based on the premise that the involved businesses would benefit in the long term. On the issue of unemployment, while this is a global problem, policymakers in California could create laws to incentivize investors to open businesses in the state. Consequently, more employment opportunities would be created, which directly addresses the problem of homelessness, as people will have the financial resources to rent houses.

The other available option for solving the problem of homelessness in California is by providing emergency rental assistance and initiating rapid re-housing programs. Homeless people earning minimum wage or without enough financial resources could benefit immensely from receiving small cash assistance to cover their deficits and pay for rent. Additionally, the authorities could mediate with landlords on behalf of tenants. While such programs exist in California already, they do not cover people at the risk of chronic homelessness, thus a different approach targeting such individuals would go a long way in solving this problem. Additionally, rapid rehousing would facilitate the quick connection of persons who have just lost their houses with new places as an effective way of reducing long-term homelessness. According to Levin, in rapid re-housing programs, “people teetering on the verge of homelessness or new to a shelter are often provided a security deposit, first month’s rent (or more), and connected to a landlord with an immediate vacancy.” Consequently, such individuals avoid falling into the homeless bracket due to the help they get through such initiatives.

Critics of this approach might argue that giving people money to cover their rent deficits is shortsighted, unsustainable, and it encourages laziness. However, solving the biting homelessness problem in California requires both short and long-term solutions, and giving such monies is part of a bigger plan for addressing this problem. The other opposing argument would be that rapid re-housing programs are new, and there lacks sufficient data to support their effectiveness. The rebuttal to this claim would be that the current problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them, hence the need to think proactively and risk failure to implement novel ideas that could potentially address the issue of homelessness in the region.


The rate of homelessness in California is among the highest in the US, but this issue could be addressed comprehensively to alleviate the problem. As discussed in this paper, the available options for tackling homelessness in California include starting permanent supportive housing programs, investing in low-cost housing, service integration, increasing the minimum wage and addressing unemployment, and providing emergency rental assistance, and initiating rapid re-housing services. For every solution stated above, there is an opposing view, but as highlighted in this paper, such alternative arguments could be rebutted convincingly. The problem of homelessness in California is a major public health concern, and it requires all stakeholders to work together for a sustainable solution.

Works Cited

Corporation for Supportive Housing. “Approaches for Ending Chronic Homelessness in California through a Coordinated Supportive Housing Program.” CHS, 2011. Web.

Gerhart, Barry, and Meiyu Fang. “Pay, Intrinsic Motivation, Extrinsic Motivation, Performance, and Creativity in the Workplace: Revisiting Long-Held Beliefs.” Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, vol. 2, no. 1, 2015, pp. 489-521.

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Guerrero, Erick, et al. “Service Integration to Reduce Homelessness in Los Angeles County: Multiple Stakeholder Perspectives.” Human Services Organizations Management, Leadership & Governance, vol. 38, no.1, 2014, pp. 44-54.

Levin, Matt. “California’s Homelessness Crisis and Possible Solutions Explained.” Cal Matters, 2019. Web.

Martin, Edward. “Affordable Housing, Homelessness, and Mental Health: What Heath Care Policy Needs to Address.” Journal of Health and Human Services Administration, vol. 38, no.1, 2015, pp. 67-89.

Sharam, Andrea, and Kath Hulse. “Understanding the Nexus between Poverty and Homelessness: Relational Poverty Analysis of Families Experiencing Homelessness in Australia.” Housing, Theory and Society, vol. 31, no. 3, 2014, pp. 294-309.

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