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California’s homelessness crisis needs immediate action. Here’s what we can do

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Everyone agrees there is a humanitarian crisis on the streets of California. But the homelessness population is not a monolith. It is a diverse set of individuals and families who ended up without a roof over their head for myriad reasons. Yet politicians across the state continue to point to the state’s housing crisis as not just the main driver, but in some cases, the only driver of why this crisis has escalated so quickly.

For the “hidden homeless,” those who are couch-surfing, living in temporary motels or otherwise housing-insecure, access to affordable and stable housing is critical. These are often families with working parents who have become victims of the state’s ongoing affordability crisis. We must build more housing now, no excuses.

The Golden 1 Center was built in record time. It’s time to make the “hidden homeless” as important as sports facilities.

Collectively, the state, local governments and nonprofits spend billions and billions of dollars to serve the 130,000 homeless statewide. Everyday, the crisis seems to only be getting worse. For the chronically homeless, there is no amount of affordable housing that is going to get them off the streets. These are the true hidden homeless, because no one wants to confront the real reason they are on the streets. The truth is that we don’t just have a homelessness crisis, we have a mental health and substance abuse crisis.


The Seattle homeless-outreach team estimates that 80 percent of those living on their streets suffer from substance abuse issues. The National Drug Policy Center estimates that a heavy-drug user spends $1,834 per month on drugs alone. That’s about $500 more than the average rent in Sacramento.

The fact is that addiction re-wires the brain into prioritizing drugs or alcohol over everything else, including housing, food and other basic necessities. No amount of new housing is going to help those whose humanity has been stripped away by addiction. We need other solutions, which is why the California Business Roundtable has consistently supported billions of dollars in funding to increase comprehensive services to the homeless.


In an annual survey of business owners in its region, the Los Angeles County Business Federation (BizFed) reported that 24 percent of respondents cited the crisis as a reason businesses are moving out of Los Angeles. In 2016, voters approved a $1.2 billion bond for homeless housing. None of the 10,000 promised units have opened. Meanwhile, homelessness is up 16 percent in the city of Los Angeles.

Expanding beds and shelter capacity is a critical first step, it’s the next steps that are hard.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has publicly called homelessness the challenge of our generation. But in order to ensure those dollars are spent on real solutions, we must have a true and honest discussion about the problem. Californians’ empathy and frustration are at an all-time high. But so is our willingness to support leaders who are willing to lay out an honest, transparent plan, reprioritize spending and make the tough decisions that build real solutions.

Rob Lapsley is president of the California Business Roundtable. He is also a California Housing and Transportation Influencer for McClatchy’s California Influencers series.
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