Some U.S. cities, counties and states have made enviable progress in reducing homelessness, revealing possible solutions for California. Four communities have been recognized by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness for effectively ending chronic homelessness, meaning that any homeless person with a disability is immediately provided shelter and is able to land permanent housing within 90 days if he or she wants. Three states and 78 communities have ended veteran homelessness.
Houston has reduced homelessness by over half, from a peak of around 8,500 in 2011 to around 4,000 in 2019, according to federal point-in-time data. The city began by bringing together more than 100 agencies, including the city of Houston, the counties, nonprofit agencies, businesses and the federal HUD. Coalition members continually update a data dashboard that tracks homeless people as they interact with shelters and services. During regular meetings, they match a list of homeless people seeking permanent supportive housing with spots. A sobriety center provides a safe place for people who are publicly intoxicated to sober up — and avoid an arrest record. Federal funding has been key to bringing thousands of new supportive housing units online: HUD nearly doubled its funding for Houston homelessness programs between 2008 and 2018, to $38.2 million.
In Atlanta, a city similar in population to Sacramento or Long Beach, the homeless population has also more than halved since 2010, even as rents have raced upwards. Like Houston, Atlanta has embraced the “housing first” approach, investing public and private dollars in a growing stock of low-barrier shelter beds, rapid rehousing units and permanent supportive housing. One innovative solution: A host-family program that pairs homeless LGBTQ young adults with supportive households.