By Luis Rau
This story was originally published by the team of youth journalists at Access Local TV in Sacramento, Calif.
As of 2019, over 550,000 Americans were considered homeless. California saw an increase of 21,306 people on the streets. This increase of homelessness was so severe that it actually offset the homeless decline in every other state. It is not an understatement to call this a homeless crisis.
The pandemic seems to have no end in sight and the looming threat of an economic fallout seems all too likely. The question is, will this make the homeless crisis worse? Or will the urgency of the pandemic force lawmakers to come up with an effective solution?
“I fear that the pandemic will make things much worse. While we have an eviction moratorium in place now, we need programs to help people pay back their debt over time — or to pay it for them if they are unable to quickly get back to gainful employment. Without those programs, renters are likely to be evicted once the moratorium is lifted,” said Katie Valenzuela, a Sacramento City Council member.
If an affordable option is not available for people to pay back their debts then a large number of evictions are likely to take place all at once. While some may be able to find new places to live, many will not.
“It’s very expensive to move — you need first and last month’s rent, along with moving expenses — and adding an eviction to your record likely won’t help with finding affordable housing. This means that a lot of folks who are currently housed may end up on the street, adding to the already astronomical numbers of folks currently struggling to access food, water, and services. I would hope that this looming potential outcome would motivate stronger action from local or state decision makers, but so far we have not seen significant movement on this issue. I’m really worried about what this means for our neighbors long-term,” said Valenzuela.
So what is being done? There are programs like Project Roomkey which has allowed California to lease about 15,000 hotel and motel rooms for at risk homeless people. However, with an increase of over 21,000 homeless people in California in 2019, this is clearly a temporary solution.
“I fear that folks will find temporary refuge in these rooms, only to end up back on the street because we lack the service options and resources for them to find permanent housing,” said Valenzuela.
Assembly Bill 3269 is another potential solution. This bill aims to reduce 90% of homelessness by 2028.
“AB 3269 is creating new state mechanisms to ensure local governments are tracking data and making plans to help people on the street access services and move into permanent housing… I think we should be questioning ourselves about where there are gaps in the system, and collecting robust data to ensure we’re tracking real outcomes for people on the street and making meaningful progress. We are fully capable of doing this without a state mandate, but lawmakers and many advocates — myself included — think that this step is necessary to push local governments to act,” said Valenzuela.
Ideally California will figure out a solution to keep people in their homes during these hard times, but if not, AB 3269 may be the only option left. If this bill does work it will hopefully bring an end to a crisis that has been overlooked for too long.