Western States Look to Combat Homelessness Trend

For the first time since the Great Recession, the population of American citizens experiencing homelessness has increased.[1] Extreme levels of poverty, coupled with the steadily rising cost of housing in major cities, has made finding and maintaining housing for some virtually impossible. Homelessness in America is more prevalent among the youth population with an estimated number of at least 700,000 youth age 13-17 and 3.5 million kids aged 18-25[2] experiencing homelessness over a 12-month period.

The 2017 Annual Homeless Report to Congress found four Western states – California, Colorado, North Dakota and Wyoming- with the largest increase in the homeless population[3]. As a result of this growing concern, Western states have produced some of the most innovative strategies to help move people away from homelessness.

Conventional policy has been to ban panhandling and other solicitation actions however advocates of the homeless have argued in the past that criminalizing the homeless does nothing to address the multiple causes of their condition. Because homelessness can stem from multiple reasons, including substance abuse, loss of a parent or mental health issues, there have been new strategies developed to help reduce homelessness.

Nevada, which has one of the nation’s largest homeless populations, allocated about $5.9 million to Clark County for demolishing old apartment buildings and replacing them with a 4.5-acre campus for people experiencing homelessness that will include handwashing stations, portable toilets and showers, sign up areas for public benefits and job training, and access to mental health services[4]. The California General Assembly passed a bill that establishes a fund that would give local governments more access to funding. Bill 3171 established a fund that was created specifically for addressing the needs of the homeless population.

Strategies like the one in Southern Nevada have been receiving criticism because of the amount of money it would require the state to spend, however recent studies have shown that investing into affordable housing for those without it can help the government save costs in other areas. For example, the RAND Corporation found that for every $1 that has been invested into providing affordable housing to the homeless, the state government can save around $1.20 in expenses it would have otherwise spent in healthcare and other social services.[5]

Policies such as these help can alleviate the growing homeless population, but it could also be a strategy through which major urban centers are able to help combat the astronomically growing cost of housing. The incorporation of the construction of an apartment complex and rent hike protections were placed on those apartments. That this plan could not only help transition people from living the streets but could also play a major role in reducing the number of people who are at risk of becoming homeless.