According to the largest report on homelessness in California in three decades, nearly half of the state’s homeless population is over the age of 50, having lost their homes due to insufficient income to cover bills.
A recent study by UCSF Benioff found that CA’s homeless population is mainly made up of people who lived in the state before losing housing, with nearly half over the age of 50 and a disproportionate number who are Black and indigenous.
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The study, conducted by the University of California, San Francisco, and released on Tuesday, reveals that 47% of single adults experiencing homelessness are aged 50 and above, with Black and Native American individuals disproportionately affected. California, home to approximately 171,000 homeless residents, accounts for about 30% of the country’s total homeless population.
Over 3,200 individuals participated in the survey, sharing that their median household income six months prior to becoming homeless was a mere $960 per month. Many stated that rental subsidies could have prevented their eviction and helped them maintain stable housing.
While rental rates vary across the state, property company Zillow calculates that California has the highest apartment rent costs in the entire United States, with a median monthly rate of $2,542.
Dr. Margot Kushel, director of the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative at UCSF, emphasized the study’s results confirm the dire situation where numerous Californians face homelessness due to unaffordable housing. Contrary to popular myths, the survey revealed that most homeless individuals had stayed within the same county where they previously resided.
Under a recently awarded $60 million state grant, LA County plans to transition more than half of Skid Row’s homeless population into housing over the next three years. The program includes utilizing nearby hotels and motels for interim housing, with a focus on providing services for individuals with complex mental health needs.
However, some experts, like Rev. Andy Bales, CEO of Union Rescue Mission in Downtown LA, caution against oversimplifying the issue. Bales believes the study fails to adequately address the impact of drug addiction — particularly the rise of fentanyl among the homeless population.
He argues that addressing mental illness and drug abuse requires more than just subsidized housing. The severity of the situation is reflected in the rising death rates among homeless individuals. LA County saw a 55% increase in deaths among the homeless between 2019 and 2021, with drug overdoses, often fentanyl, being the leading cause of death.
As California grapples with this ongoing crisis, efforts to combat homelessness require a multifaceted approach that not only addresses affordable housing but also mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and tailored support for vulnerable populations including seniors, in order to create lasting change.