The plight of California's homeless--estimated by state officials to number between 50,000 and 75,000 and by housing activists at 90,000--is the subject of much heated concern in pending governmental budget matters.
A coalition of housing advocates from throughout the state, the Progressive Housing Alliance, has urged the Deukmejian Administration and the Legislature to bolster waning support for public housing and to oppose drastic federal housing program cuts proposed by the Reagan Administration. Included in the alliance are representatives of the homeless, senior citizens, farm workers and other needy groups.
At a Sacramento press conference held as the Department of Housing and Community Development released a report on homelessness commissioned by the governor, alliance spokesmen declared that California faces the nation's most critical crisis on affordable housing.
They cited these figures:
--An estimated 90,000 persons in this state are homeless, 3.4 million live in overcrowded conditions and 1.2 million units are substandard.
--Only 11% of Californians today can afford the median-priced house ($112,000).
--Up to 60% of income is spent for basic shelter by the majority of low- and moderate-income families who rent, particularly senior citizens and families with children.
At the federal level, the alliance charged that housing programs have been reduced by nearly two-thirds during President Reagan's tenure--the largest cut in any program in the federal budget.
Currently, a 40% decrease is recommended in the Department of Housing and Urban Development budget and the elimination of all rural housing programs of the Farmers Home Administration. (For California, that would mean losing up to $1 billion in HUD funds and $200 million in FmHA funds.)
Pointing to the lack of virtually any new state housing aid this year, the alliance is alarmed that existing state programs make up only one-tenth of 1% of the entire state budget. It was also noted that last year the governor vetoed all but $11.5 million of the $53 million in assistance passed by the Legislature.
The alliance is supporting about 30 bills on low- and moderate-income housing during this legislative session, including a package of housing initiatives which would provide $54 million in additional funding for existing and new programs. Such funds would stimulate construction of rental housing, rehabilitate existing homes, hotels and farm labor camps, and would encourage development of shelters for the homeless and disabled. About 150 state and regional groups are supporting these efforts of the alliance.
Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.), chairman of the House subcommittee on Housing and Community Development, in California to address a conference of low-income housing groups, attended the Sacramento press conference and described a package he has introduced to provide housing for more than 283,000 lower-income families nationwide. His bill, the Housing Act of 1985, would preserve and expand many of the existing housing programs.
"This nation," he said, "is in the middle of a great and growing housing crisis that demands that we choose between decency and degradation."
The state report on the homeless, estimated at between 50,000 and 75,000, says they are concentrated in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The majority are men--as many as 90% in San Francisco--who average 34 years of age. Of that majority, many are disabled, either mentally or because of substance abuse, and often come from a minority ethnic background, according to Susan A. DeSantis, director of Housing and Community Development.
The homeless are defined as people "in the streets" who, in seeking shelter, have no alternative but to obtain shelter from a private or public agency. A person is deemed homeless if his or her nighttime residence is either an emergency shelter or, in cases where temporary vouchers are provided by private or public agencies, their residence may be a hotel, apartment or boarding home.
Many others are truly homeless and may live in a public or private space not designed for shelter--(a park, a parking lot, space under a freeway crossing or a storefront).
The homeless include young and old, individuals and families, the previously employed and the unemployable and the mentally disturbed. As many as 30% may be war veterans and an estimated 10% to 15% are women and youths who face special problems because of their vulnerability to crime.
"Homelessness is a complex issue which goes beyond just an apparent need for more housing," DeSantis said. "A number of local, state and federal programs exist to address the needs of specific elements of this population. A major problem is that many of the homeless are not taking advantage of the public and private resources that are available.
"And, the limited scope of local outreach capabilities which serve to link the homeless with appropriate assistance contributes to the continuation of this problem.
"Any long-term solution for the homeless will only result from improving cooperative efforts and shared responsibilities exercised by individuals, communities and the various levels of government."
The study was conducted by the Department of Housing and Development in cooperation with the state's departments of Mental Health and Social Services. It outlines the existing range and cost of government programs and includes a list of recommended actions that could improve the plight of the homeless.
Generally, it calls for a cooperative effort between government at all levels, the private sector and compassionate individuals to help alleviate this social blight.