In summary

Comprehensive, ongoing case management is instrumental in helping California families facing the crisis of homelessness.

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By Brittany Collier

Brittany Collier, a graduate student at the University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, is a foster and homeless youth program director in Siskiyou County.

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Aneesa Motala

Aneesa Motala, a graduate student at the University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, is a project manager with the Southern California Evidence-Review Center at USC.

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Olivia Ta, Special to CalMatters

Olivia Ta, a graduate student at the University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, is a mental health counselor at Telecare.

Many families are one paycheck away from being swept into a cycle of poverty and homelessness in California. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed our state’s lack of capacity in addressing this widespread and growing crisis. 

The cost of living is sky-rocketing faster than families have the means to make adjustments. For example, a two-bedroom apartment in Anaheim rents for $2,200 a month, 37% of the average income. Many families have to move into homes with multiple generations to avoid living on the streets or in overcrowded shelters. 

California must address the issues facing families on the brink of homelessness and those experiencing homelessness through increased, intensive case management with qualified staff to provide supportive housing solutions from a family perspective.

In the next several months, we will determine how many families are experiencing homelessness from the California Point-in-Time Homeless Count. The last time the count was conducted was before the pandemic began. In January 2020, California had 161,548 homeless, of which 8,030 were families, according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. And COVID-19 has made homeless in California worse.

The 2022 homeless count will tell us how many families have been displaced due to the pandemic. In the interim, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 was signed in March 2021 by President Joe Biden. The act provides funding to support families that are homeless or on the verge of becoming homeless. 

This legislation is a great start to solving the homeless crisis in California for families struggling with the lack of affordable housing, job loss and illnesses due to the pandemic. As summarized in a 2021 report by the Corporation for Supportive Housing, there is $31.6 billion to provide housing assistance. Still, the issue is that there isn’t enough funding to support ongoing case management. 

systematic review published in The Lancet, found that providing “housing subsidies with case management showed long-term improvements in the number of days stably housed.” But the American Rescue Plan Act says that you can spend no more than 10% of funds on case management. 

Additional funding should be added so that families can get case management to help with job transition, housing insecurity, mental health services, community resources and family welfare. The increased funding also would support the needs of families, including financial literacy, reentry into the workforce and a supportive housing plan.

For example, in Yreka, there are only two housing social workers to provide supportive services in a county with a population of 43,468.  Shelter Inc., a nonprofit that serves three counties in California, highlights the value of case management, which provides stability for those who have moved from being unsheltered to temporary housing to a permanent residence. 

With additional funding, programs like these could expand further in California and reach more families. We encourage a supplement to the American Rescue Plan Act to add additional funds for case management services, which at 10% now is insufficient to provide long-term case management for those who are unhoused. 

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