California Advocates Push for Statewide Office to End Homelessness

California lawmakers are considering the creation of an Office to End Homelessness within the governor’s office. Currently, the state homelessness response is spread between 13 agencies administering 30 different programs, leaving no single point of authority and limiting the effectiveness of the statewide response. The legislation, Assembly Bill 1845 (AB 1845), introduced by Assemblywoman Luz Rivas (D), would create a secretary on housing insecurity and homelessness to lead the office and coordinate work between existing state programs. Housing California, a NLIHC state partner, has been instrumental in mobilizing Californians to support the much-needed legislation.

Advocates and lawmakers alike argue that the current decentralized system fosters a harmful lack of coordination and gaps in services needed for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Advocates point to the fatal consequences of homelessness in their state as evidence of the need for a new statewide strategy: last year, over 1,000 people in Los Angeles County alone died from causes attributable to homelessness. Advocates estimate that many more thousands of Californians die yearly due to effects of homelessness, but only Los Angeles County collects this fatality data. Over 151,000 individuals throughout the state experience homelessness at any point in time, many of them unsheltered. The fragmented response creates difficulty in assessing the effectiveness of homelessness programs. Further, the current approach increases the likelihood that individuals and families experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity will slip through the cracks and be left without potentially life-saving assistance.

The proposed Office to End Homelessness would have authority to coordinate state departments managing the homelessness response and would direct state funds for housing-related services. The office would adopt a state model for addressing homelessness, and state staff would be organized around core standards for housing-related services that follow evidence-based recommendations. Philanthropic funding sought by from this single point of authority would support promising initiatives to address homelessness. The office would also promote best practices for preventing homelessness in California’s exiting state-funded institutional settings such as prisons, nursing homes, and foster care.

Advocates at Housing California have for decades been instrumental in communicating the importance of efforts to prevent and end homelessness. The California House passed AB 1845 unanimously, and the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services has now passed the bill as well. The bill now moves to the full Senate as the California legislature wraps up its session in August.