Who is Homeless in Alameda County?
Every other year EveryOne Home coordinates the Point-In-Time Count of individuals and families experiencing homelessness records the number of people staying in shelters and transitional housing on a given night in late January each year and estimates the number of people who are unsheltered, living outdoors. The unsheltered Point-In-Time fieldwork was last conducted on January 30, 2017 and data will be released in the summer of 2017. Download the press packet here.
What are the causes of homelessness?
Individual factors that push people towards homelessness include poverty, mental illness, substance use, disability, injury and illness, and family instability. But the primary cause of homelessness is a lack of affordable housing, particularly when coupled with inadequate incomes and insufficient access to social services.
- Lack of Affordable Housing
- In the 1980s, the federal government began a process of steadily disinvesting in safe, affordable housing nationwide. At the same time, national and global market forces combined with urban renewal and gentrification were driving down income and driving up housing costs. The safety nets put in place in the 30s as part of the New Deal and in the 60s as part of the Great Society, were eroding, with the result that homelessness reemerged throughout the United States. Without the previously available federal subsidies, Government at all levels has underinvested in the creation of quality affordable housing, and has failed to control the price of housing, making it out of reach for many. This is particularly true in Alameda County, where the high cost of housing both increases homelessness, and is itself a barrier to preventing and ending homelessness. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Alameda County is one of the 10 least affordable counties in the nation. As rents throughout the county have been rising, and the supply of affordable housing has been falling, low-income renters are increasingly finding themselves at risk of homelessness. In 2013, according to Alameda County Health Care for the Homeless 2014-2015 Homeless Population Needs Assessment, the county had an affordable housing shortfall of 58,480 units, meaning that there are only 36,000 low-income units available for the 100,000 neediest households in the county (60,905 extremely low-income and 40,000 very low income). From 2013-2014, only 2,000 new housing units were built countywide (almost all not affordable), while between 2010 and 2014, more than 100,000 new residents moved to Alameda County, many drawn by high tech jobs or forced out of San Francisco. Rising rents and Bay Area-wide gentrification increased the burden on low-income renters: Oakland had the highest rent increases in the United States at 9.1% in 2014, with mean one-bedroom rents now at $1,934, a 41% increase since 2010. 13.2% of the county population (208,413) lives below the federal poverty level. This includes 53,547 persons living on SSI ($877/month) and 21,000 persons receiving cash assistance such as General Assistance or TANF. Recession-related foreclosures resulted in 25,000 homes lost in Oakland between 2007 and 2012, not just affecting homeowners, as 40% of persons evicted due to foreclosures were tenants
- Homelessness and poverty are inextricably linked. And while not all poor people are at immediate risk of homelessness, poor people are frequently unable to pay for housing, food, childcare, health care, and education. Difficult choices must be made when limited resources cover only some of these necessities. It is no surprise, then, that individuals and families experiencing homelessness tend to come from communities of concentrated poverty—neighborhoods that typically have the highest rates of unemployment, poor health, crime, family violence, low educational achievement and overcrowding. In these situations, an everyday life issue that may be manageable for individuals with a higher income could end up being the final factor in forcing those in poverty onto the street. A broken down vehicle, a lack of vehicle insurance, or even unpaid tickets might be just enough to render someone homeless.
- Lack of a Support Network
- Many of those who are homeless were discharged from institutions (such as jails, prisons, or hospitals), recently left military service, are fleeing domestic violence, or have aged out of the foster care system (one in five homeless adults in Alameda County was in foster care or a group home when younger than 18). People facing such transitions are often without any type of support network or financial resources, putting them at considerable risk for homelessness. Another fast growing segment of those experiencing homelessness is older adults. The number of adults over 50 who have become homeless is increasing nationwide. Again, largely as a result of poverty, increasing housing costs, and unpredictable health care costs, this population is often disconnected from their support network and at the mercy of a fixed income.
- Health Problems
- Conditions experienced by homeless persons on the streets or in shelters often exacerbate existing health conditions, or create new ones, and complicate medical treatment plans. It has been well documented that homeless people experience health problems at rates higher than housed people. Poor diet, substance use, chronic daily stress and exposure to the elements increase displaced people’s risk for complications of chronic illness and premature mortality. Health conditions requiring regular, uninterrupted treatment, such as diabetes, hypertension, tuberculosis, HIV, addictions, and mental illness, are extremely difficult to manage without a stable residence.
- Fractured System
- Alameda County is a large, diverse, and complex entity that is home to more than 1.5 million people living in 14 incorporated cities (Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Dublin, Emeryville, Fremont, Hayward, Livermore, Newark, Oakland, Piedmont, Pleasanton, San Leandro, and Union City) and six unincorporated communities and rural areas (Ashland, Castro Valley, Cherryland, Fairview, San Lorenzo, and Sunol). And while homelessness is an issue in every part of the county, it is a bigger problem for some communities than it is for others. In addition, federal dollars from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) flow to cities, rather than to counties. It’s at the county level, however, that approaches to homelessness are coordinated.
- Structural Racism
- In Alameda County as throughout the United States, an ongoing history of discriminatory policies tied to race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status has produced differences in access to housing resources, and opportunities for health across neighborhoods. Intentional policies and systemic conditions — mental health deinstitutionalization, discriminatory mortgage underwriting, redlining, income disparity, unemployment and underemployment, cuts to safety net and health programs, unequal school systems, tremendous growth in the penal system targeting of communities of color — have created the conditions for concentration of poverty, housing instability and homelessness especially among poor communities of color.
What is the plan to end homelessness?
We are addressing homelessness in Alameda County through a collaboration among community stakeholders, cities and Alameda County government agencies representing three separate care systems — homeless services, public health services and mental health services — that share overlapping client populations. EveryOne Home is the coordinating body and the backbone organization that is responsible for the continuum of homeless services in Alameda County, as well as for the implementation of Alameda County’s plan to end homelessness. EveryOne Home spearheads the collaborative work in the county alongside such county agencies as Health Care for the Homeless, Department of Housing and Community Development, Behavioral Health Care Services, and many others, as well as an array of community health clinics and direct service providers. Partners include; the county Board of Supervisors, city governments, homeless service providers, affordable housing developers, landlords, and concerned citizens. The collective knowledge, funding and expertise of the collaborative, joined with extensive input and guidance from a wide variety of community-based organizations and service consumers, yielded the Alameda Countywide Homeless and Special Needs Housing Plan, now known as the EveryOne Home plan. The plan is a regional and multifaceted response to address the social and economic issues of homelessness and housing instability that affect the county.
Some of the initiatives that have been implemented to achieve these goals are as follows:
Policy as Prevention
While the housing crisis that threatens Alameda County is devastating for people experiencing homelessness or who are at risk for homelessness, the negative consequences are much more widespread. Safe, quality, and affordable housing is one of the most basic and powerful determinants of health and wellbeing. According to a report from the Corporation for Supportive Housing (Housing is the Best Medicine: Supportive Housing and the Social Determinants of Health, 2014), “Supportive housing provides physical safety, protection and access to basic needs. A clean, dry, safe home reduces exposure to harsh weather, communicable diseases, infections, injury, harassment and violence; it provides a secure place to sleep and store food, clothing and medications; and it is essential to promoting personal hygiene and recuperation from illness.” With this in mind, a just released policy brief by Alameda County Public Health Department and Behavioral Health Care Services (Improving Housing and Health for All in Alameda County: the Opportunity is Now, 2016) advocates housing solutions that not only provide and protect affordability at all levels of need, but also ensure habitability; protect against unfair and unjust displacement; and connect residents to the jobs, schools, services, and community resources that create the conditions for health and prosperity. Specific recommendations include:
1. Protect existing residents from losing their housing
a. Rent stabilization
b. Just cause eviction
c. Tenant protection ordinances
d. Tenant counseling and legal services
e. Code enforcement
2. Repair and preserve existing housing
a. Acquisition and rehabilitation
b. Permanent affordability
c. No net loss
3. Produce new housing for all income levels
a. Prioritizing public subsidies
b. Coordination and leveraging of subsidies for deeper affordability
c. Mix-income and diverse neighborhoods
4. Remove barriers to housing access
a. Anti-discrimination policies
b. Housing formerly incarcerated individuals