This is perhaps the most visible change in our district, and certainly the most troubling. According to a recent survey, 89% of Bay Area voters view homelessness as an extremely or very serious problem. I am one of them.
In the past few years, the unhoused population in the South and East Bay spiked by over 40%. It's estimated that there are about 30,000 homeless persons in the Bay Area.
Some of the homeless population suffer from mental illnesses and/or substance use disorders, and I applaud former State Senator Jim Beall's successful fifth attempt to enforce parity for mental health treatment. Some (not all) unhoused individuals with substance use disorders have been known to leave behind drug paraphernalia, which has concerned voters in our district who I've talked to, especially those with families. Then there is the garbage strewn alongside freeway ramps, creeks, and neighborhoods. As a South Bay resident has observed, "The build-up of garbage around our area is a health hazard as well as a visual blight."
But the homeless population is not monolithic. Some folks ended up living in their cars, on the streets, or in creeks because their rent payments exceeded their ability to pay. Yet others who worked two or three jobs abruptly lost one of them and could no longer afford rent. For example, more than two-thirds of the unhoused surveyed by Santa Clara County cited their inability to afford rent as the primary reason they could not secure housing.
Because individuals become homeless for different reasons, the solution cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. I will encourage a comprehensive review of the problem that examines its roots, its consequences, and feasible solutions. We must work with a broad coalition of stakeholders that encompasses community organizations, municipal officials, county officials, state legislators, and public-private partnerships. Only then can we develop an approach that balances compassion with fiscal prudence.