California: Where the Streets are Home

Homelessness in California has been a continuous issue with no feasible solution for decades. In the upcoming midterm election, a proposition on the ballot aims to help reduce the growing homeless population. Proposition 2, if passed, will sell up to $2 billion in bonds to fund the “No Place Like Home” program, which would provide permanent housing for mentally ill homeless individuals. The Mental Health Services Act, which raises about $2 billion annually, will pay off the bonds, plus interest, for the next 30 years. It will be responsible for allocating up to $140 million dollars of its annual funding to maintain these homes. Though this is an important step towards alleviating the homelessness crisis in Southern California, it falls short in both efficiency and intensity.

According to a 2012-2016 survey conducted by the US Census Bureau, only 6.8% of California citizens are considered legally disabled, with mentally ill individuals making up a fraction of this percentage. Considering that only a small portion of homeless Californians would be eligible for the allocated housing, Prop. 2 falls short of solving the real problem: getting all of our homeless off the street and into affordable homes. By maximizing the number of properly-sheltered homeless, California can increase its workforce and provide these people with a second chance. Prop. 2 fails at this as it serves a very specific subsection of the population.

If the true goal for the passing of Prop. 2 is to reduce homelessness in California, why doesn’t it target a broader audience? I understand and advocate for helping the mentally ill who cannot work to support themselves, but shouldn’t the California government focus on lowering the ever-rising housing prices? According to a report by the League of California Cities, the main cause for homelessness in California is increasing housing costs combined with high poverty rates. California minimum wage is at $11 per hour while the average monthly rent cost for a one bedroom apartment is $1,218. With such a comparatively low minimum wage, people are forced to get multiple jobs just to afford rent. California needs to invest in solutions or treatments to the rising cost of living so the cycle of poverty and homelessness is broken.

Another possible option is to help people before they become homeless. Clearly the issue of homelessness in California is one that directly relates to affordable housing. Instead of using Prop. 2 funds to create permanent housing for such a specific group of homeless, why not pass a bill to allocate affordable housing for people under the poverty line? In my hometown, there is a housing development called the ‘Labor Camp’ where many farm workers and their families live. Their rent is based on income and is stable. If Southern California could finance a similar project on a larger scale, it would work to alleviate the regional homelessness crisis.

Despite its limited scope, Prop. 2 is a good first step towards getting our homeless off the streets and into warm homes, but there needs to be more done. I still plan to vote yes on Prop. 2, as it does not raise taxes and does assist some of the homeless population. But in the future, we need more resources allocated towards finding as many homeless a home as possible.

Frank Peña is a third-year Journalism and Informatics major. He can be reached at fpenaaya@uci.edu.