Healthy Awareness: What I learned from the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative Report from UCSF

I want to share the University of California San Francisco report published in June 2023 on the latest findings on homelessness’s. This report is impressive for the following reasons:

  1. it is the most extensive representative study since the mid-1990s;
  2. it is the first large-scale representative study to use both 3,200 surveys and 365 in-depth interviews and
  3. it is guided by advisory boards composed of people who have had the experience of being homeless and those who worked on homelessness programs and policies.

Eight counties were tested, representing the state’s diversity; participants were over eighteen, and 90% were single. Most participants (87%) were born in California. California is home to approximately 12 percent of the population of the United States; however, California also represents 30% of the nation’s homeless population and 50% of the nation’s unsheltered population (those living in vehicles).

In California, more than 171,000 people experience homelessness daily. Only 25% of people without homes migrated to California, with the majority (75%) reporting having lived in the same county in California based on their last housing. Two-thirds (63%) had at least a high school education or equivalent. The age of the homeless population is increasing to those over 50. Forty-one percent became homeless for the first time after age 50. The median age was 47 years, with 37% being in the 50-64 age group and part of the single adult population. Minority groups (Blacks, Native American or Indigenous identity, and Latinos) are over-represented in the homeless population. Homelessness takes its toll on both mental and physical health. People at a higher risk for homelessness have specific vulnerabilities in their lifetimes, such as a history of trauma (72% physical violence and 24% sexual violence), experiences of discrimination, exposure to violence, incarceration (79%), mental health problems (82%) and substance abuse (63%). Sixty percent reported having a chronic disease. Two-thirds reported severe depression, mania, psychosis, and panic attacks.

Being homeless is extremely stressful as they are trying to survive with much of their time spent seeking the basic needs of food and shelter. They do not sleep well and can experience violence on the street. Life is one of constant worry and hopelessness.

Age, disability, lack of transportation, and housing interferes with their ability to work. Approximately 50% report severe depression and anxiety, 37% have memory issues, and 12% have hallucinations. Only 9% receive mental health counseling, with less than 15% getting medications for these conditions. One in five participants with substance abuse said they could not receive treatment. Only 19% of those eligible for VA benefits receive them.

Many homeless people are forced to move out of their locations, resulting in 1 in 3 reporting losing all their belongings in the prior six months, including the loss of essential documents and medication. 1 in 4 females aged 18 to 44 experience pregnancy at some point while being homeless. About one-third became homeless due to economic problems after losing their housing.

Housing loss due to financial problems appear to be the most significant obstacle in avoiding homelessness, and suggestions have been made to do the following:

  1. provide a monthly rental subsidy worth $300-$500;
  2. a one-time payment of $5,000 to $10,000; or
  3. a voucher that limits rent contribution to 30% of their income (such as a Housing Choice Voucher).

Many participants (90%), even those with substantial substance use or mental health conditions, said that #3 would have prevented them from becoming homeless. Improving re-entry support with meaningful connections to permanent housing, health care, and employment for those exiting the armed services (6%), incarceration, and hospital patients is a priority to end homelessness.

My evaluation: Homelessness, for some, represents a sense of community or family, often for protection or having similar drug or alcohol addictions, making it difficult to leave. Many homeless individuals would prefer to live on the streets with their “family or community” rather than be housed in a shelter with rules and unable to bring their personal property, including their pets. Giving money to homeless individuals who suffer from addiction does not buy food; instead, drugs or alcohol. It is better to give them food instead.

The Recovery Road facility does this and provides a center with AA meetings and a computer lab for finding work. The center also provides food to seniors saving them from becoming homeless as they cannot afford food. Homeless people need access to mental and physical healthcare services, including advisory services that alert them to available resources. Also, we need to include re-entry services for veterans (6% of the homeless population) and others transitioning to a different life.

Finding some of the factors related to homelessness as the UCSF project is a start to finding the solution to homelessness. Folks, we have a major problem that is only getting worse. It is not just going to go away. We need to all be part of the solution! Homelessness is a humanity crisis that requires our full attention!