The University of California, San Francisco BenioffHomelessness and Housing Initiative (BHHI) today released the largest representative study ofhomelessness in the United States since the mid-1990s, providing a comprehensive look at the causes and consequences of homelessness in California and recommending policy changes to shape programs in response.
The California Statewide Study of People Experiencing Homelessness (CASPEH) used surveys and in-depth interviews to develop a clear portrait of homelessness in California, where 30% of the nation’s homeless population and half of the unsheltered population live.
The study found that, for most of the participants, the cost of housing had simply become unsustainable. Participants reported a median monthly household income of $960 in the six months prior to their homelessness, and most believed that either rental subsidies or one-time financial help would have prevented their homelessness.
The study found that the state’s homeless popula`on is aging, with 47% of all adults aged 50 or older, and that Black and Native Americans are dramatically overrepresented. Contrary to myths of homeless migration, most were Californians: 90% of participants lost their last housing in California and 75% of participants live in the same county as where they were last housed. Nine out of ten spent time unsheltered since they became homeless. The median length of homelessness was 22 months.
One in five participants entered homelessness from an institution. Of those who hadn’t been in an institution, 60% came from situations where they weren’t leaseholders, such as doubling up with family or friends. Participants were disconnected from the job market and services, but almost half were looking for work.
Participants had experienced multiple forms of trauma throughout their life, increasing their vulnerability to homelessness and contributing to their mental health and substance use challenges. Two-thirds reported current mental health symptoms and more than a third experienced physical or sexual violence during this episode of homelessness. More than a third had visited an Emergency Department in the prior six months. One in five who used substances reported that they wanted substance use treatment—but couldn’t get it.