Breakdown on Homelessness in Orange County
The current wave of homelessness is a complex issue, as it entails a variety of social and public policy responses. Over the last few decades, the prevalence of homelessness in Orange County and its 34 municipalities has grown at an alarming rate. Government agencies and nonprofit organizations have worked tirelessly to develop and implement programs that aid those experiencing homelessness in the county. While some progress has been made, there is much more work to do.
A Growing Need
In 2007, multiple community meetings were conducted to begin developing Orange County’s Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness. Published in 2012, the plan was the product of an integrated collaboration, resulting in a roadmap detailing how to effectively end homelessness in Orange County within the next 10 years. The plan was established through a broad-based working group, whose members represented many community stakeholders, including those representing the business community, non-profit homeless service providers, technical consultants, and local government.
The programs discussed through this process were aimed at aiding the chronically homeless population and reducing associated costs. These are individuals who have a diagnosable disability (e.g., serious mental illness, substance abuse, etc.), experienced continuous homelessness for one year or more, or have experienced at least four periods of homelessness in the last three years that, combined, total 12 months.
But while a plan and infrastructure were in place, the numbers of those experiencing homelessness grew significantly.
The 2013 Orange County Point in Time Count Report showed that that on any given night in Orange County, almost 4,241 people were homeless, comprising 0.14% of the total population of the county. The 2015 Orange County Point in Time Count Report reported a jump to 4,452 people experienced homelessness (2,200 of whom were unsheltered) on any given night.
The 2017 Orange County Point in Time Report, which highlighted a further increase (8%) in the number of homeless people in Orange County to 4,792.
So, the problem continues to escalate. While work done in the last 10 years provided a critical foundation, it’s clear that a comprehensive, cross-sector and collaborative approach, as recommended in recent studies, combined with a clear understanding of the need and the application of proven solutions, are critical to ending Orange County’s homelessness crisis.
Costs of Homelessness
A 2017 collaborative study by Orange County United Way, University of California, Irvine and Jamboree revealed a comprehensive outlook on the costs of services for the homeless. The results showed that homelessness is primarily caused by a lack of sufficient income or job loss, combined with the high cost of housing in Orange County. In addition, other factors like family dysfunction, health issues, and substance abuse can increase the vulnerability of an individual to becoming homeless.
Roughly $299 million was spent to address homelessness in Orange County by governmental and non-governmental entities in a 12-month period encompassing 2014/2015. The largest expenditures were incurred by municipalities (~$120 million) followed by hospitals (~$77 million).
The study further revealed that the average expenditures per person who is experiencing homelessness are roughly $45,000 per year. That number is more than doubled for those who are chronically homeless, exceeting $100,000 per person annually, largely due to health care costs.
What’s Being Done
Some of the most important actions taking place in the fight to end homelessness involve bringing greater awareness of the issue to Orange County communities and formalizing the UC Irvine-recommended collective approach to addressing homelessness through United to End Homelessness.
A new Commission to End Homelessness was also seated for the first time in November 2018. These groups have been instrumental in facilitating the involvement of the public and private agencies that make-up regional communities. The Leadership Council of United to End Homelessness was established to bring corporate, governmental, faith-based, non-profit and philanthropic leaders together focus the County’s collective private resources on permanent solutions to homelessness.
While the community has been coming together to focus on long-term solutions, temporary shelters in Santa Ana and Anaheim and elsewhere have been created in response to orders from U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter. The judge ruled in a lawsuit filed on behalf of homeless individuals that more shelters must be established throughout the county.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors seeks to potentially spend $70.5 million on permanent supportive housing for the homeless. Part of this includes $250,000 directed to a pilot program with United to End Homelessness that will remove barriers to placing homeless men and women with rental vouchers into their own apartment homes while receiving the supportive care needed to bring stability to their lives.
Permanent supportive housing, according to the UC Irvine study on the Cost of Homelessness, can save save $42 million annually in healthcare, law enforcement, and other expenses. Further, we’d cut annual per person spending on homelessness in half if we were to house chronically homeless individuals in supportive housing as opposed to leaving them on the street
When coordinated on a national level, campaigns such as United To End Homelessness aligned with other organized efforts can bridge connections in our neighborhoods to build better communities. The United to End Homelessness initiative brings Orange County citizens together to ensure that integrated, sustainable, proven and cost-saving solutions are implemented for those suffering from disabilities and homelessness.