It would cost an estimated $12.7 billion to permanently house the Bay Area’s homeless residents, according to a recent report that paints a picture of a crisis so massive, researchers say local cities won’t be able to solve it without a bold, regionwide plan and help from the state.
With 28,200 homeless residents, the nine-county Bay Area has the fifth-highest concentration of homelessness in the country, according to a report released Wednesday by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.
“Homelessness is not just something that San Francisco faces. It’s not just something that Oakland faces or San Jose,” said Jeff Bellisario, vice president of the Economic Institute. “It’s the entire region, and we need the region to come together to solve the problem.”
The report calls on local and state leaders to create two regional homelessness task forces, launch a Bay Area-wide database to track the needs of homeless residents as they move between cities, and implement a state homeless services agency. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently created a new Commission on Homelessness and Supportive Housing, to be led by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.
To gain traction for the regional proposals, the Bay Area Council plans to host a meeting Wednesday that will include Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, local business leaders, homelessness services professionals and others. As a first step, the council also is sponsoring a state bill, AB 1534, that would require each county to develop a concrete plan for fighting homelessness.
The council also will push for a regional database that can track data for homeless residents throughout the Bay Area, replacing the current method where residents’ needs, the resources allotted them and their outcomes are tracked by a hodgepodge of different networks that rarely talk to each other.
In addition, the report recommends launching homelessness task forces on funding and on better using technology to monitor the problem and dole out services. And the council is calling on legislators to create a new California “homeless services agency” to consolidate the state’s homelessness resources. Now the state uses 28 different programs spread across seven agencies to fund homeless services. A Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council, launched in 2017 to streamline the state’s efforts, is struggling to do the job, according to the report.
The institute interviewed almost 40 homelessness experts for its report and used homeless population data from the biennial Point-in-Time count, which uses volunteers to tally the number of people sleeping outside on a given night. The most current homeless population data available dates back to 2017. Results from the 2019 count, which took place in January, will be available later this year.
A lack of available housing is a clear factor in the homeless crisis overwhelming the Bay Area, according to the report. The region has a similar proportion of poor households compared to other major metro areas but a higher percentage of homeless residents. Between 1999 and 2014, the region fell short on the number of very low-income homes it was supposed to permit, according to the state’s guidelines, by 61,000 units.
By one metric, it would cost $12.7 billion to solve the problem. That’s the price tag to build a new unit of permanent housing for each of the 28,200 residents reported as homeless in the Bay Area in 2017, according to the report. The calculation assumes mid-range construction costs of $450,000 per unit. Providing services to just half of those residents, at $25,000 per person per year for 10 years, would cost an additional $3.5 billion.
“I think the report paints this picture that what we’re doing right now is not nearly enough,” Bellisario said.
Bay Area developers built 2,500 units of permanent supportive housing in 2017, according to the report. If they continue building at that rate, it would take until 2037 to house every homeless person.
Most of the Bay Area’s homeless population is local — 56 percent of homeless residents have lived in their current county for 10 or more years, and 89 percent have lived in their current county for more than one year. About two-thirds of the Bay Area’s homeless residents have no roof over their heads, unlike Washington, D.C., and New York City, which house 85 percent and 95 percent, respectively, of their homeless population in shelters.
In Oakland, where the city’s homeless population grew by more than a quarter between 2015 and 2017, homeless and community activist Candice Elder said the Bay Area Council’s numbers are “alarming but not surprising.”
“We’re not only seeing people unsheltered and on the street or in encampments,” said Elder, executive director of the East Oakland Collective, which offers homeless services and other community programs. “We’re also seeing a rise in people living in their vehicles, people couch surfing. We’re seeing more students from a young age to college students who are having to catch BART or the bus, the night route, just to have shelter.”