Cost of Homelessness

What Is Homelessness Really Costing Californians?

Almost 200,000 people are homeless in California. And the crisis is expanding, and it’s happening everywhere — from the cities to the rural counties. While the homelessness crisis is certainly impacting the unhoused, there is also a cost to everyone living in the state.

We recently spoke with Justin Wallin, owner of J Wallin Opinion Research, about the impacts of homelessness throughout the state and what it is really costing all Californians. Wallin immediately gets our attention with a disturbing statistic, “30% of the nation’s homeless population is in California, I suspect disproportionately represented by Southern California.”

Affordable Housing Isn’t a Reality in California

On the economic side, the homelessness crisis really stems from the complete lack of affordable housing throughout the state. Much of this issue could have been rectified by state lawmakers before it spiraled out of control.

How? Years of systematic policy failures have exacerbated the high cost of living, and inadequate housing supply has turned buying a home or renting into a supply-and-demand issue where demand is increasing and the supply is staying the same or even shrinking in some cases. “California is the highest regulated state for building…It is extraordinarily difficult to build stuff here, and it’s extraordinarily expensive.” Wallin explains.

Add on to that mental health challenges and substance abuse issues, and it has allowed homelessness in California to spiral out of control quickly.

Taking Lessons From Florida: How the Sunshine State Has Dealt With Housing Shortages and Homelessness

The most significant difference between California and Florida is how the Sunshine State approaches housing construction. 

California’s strict regulatory environment makes housing construction both costly and time-consuming. Compare this with Florida’s more lenient regulatory environment, and it’s no wonder that Florida builds housing faster and more efficiently. 

So, essentially Florida doesn’t have the supply side issues when it comes to housing stock. While there is still significant demand for housing and renting throughout the state, Florida boasts enough housing to keep prices affordable. That alone is enough to drive down the number of homeless in the state.

High Cost of Living = High Number of Homeless in California

It’s a simple equation, but when you think about it, it really makes sense. The high cost of living in California pushes people to the brink of homelessness. Not only are the housing costs some of the highest in the nation but so are the food and utility costs. Add in exorbitant insurance costs, and you have a recipe that causes people to struggle to make ends meet. Many people’s current incomes don’t allow them to afford necessities. “Californians being able to shoulder the costs of living in California is becoming untenable,” says Wallin.

However, there are solutions and even reasons to be optimistic. The homelessness crisis needs to be faced with realism, and it’s not going to be easy. Wallin explains the needed legislative process, “You’re going to have imperfect things that really, really don’t work well. But they can be fixed. It just takes a little bit longer.” It will take real policy change and desire to face it head-on. And it must be done with a multifaceted approach. 

California does have resources to build a deeper housing stock. Think of the thousands of acres of Federal lands. Even just using a small amount to build housing would help put a dent in the housing and homelessness crisis. 

However, the solution can’t just be about supply-side theories. California also needs to tackle the mental health and substance abuse issues that come alongside homelessness. “In order for people to not be allowed to die in the streets in this incredibly brutal and ugly way, an inhumane way that we as a society have to find the stomach to humanely, respectfully and with dignity, but with certainty, remove people from the situation and put them in a system that will allow them to live a dignified life,” Wallin explains

Learn More

Join in the in-depth conversation with Justin Wallin by listening to the latest episode of our podcast. 

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