By Courtney Keith
California Health Report
Legislation pending in the state Senate seeks to strengthen the collection of data on the number of people homeless in California.
As a response to what he refers as the state’s insufficient information on homelessness, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, introduced AB 683, which would require the state to ask applicants for public assistance programs about their housing circumstances. Ammiano’s goal is to help the state recognize those applicants who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
California is believed to have the highest number of homeless people in the United States. While California’s population represents 12 percent of the nation, 21 percent of the country’s homeless population lives in the state, according to Ammiano’s research cited in a state Senate bill analysis.
With an estimated number of over 135,000 Californians homeless on any given night, this issue has become urgent at the local, state, and federal level.
Sharron Rapport of the Corporation for Supportive Housing said, “we simply don’t know” whether homeless people use a disproportionate share of resources in government programs.
Ammiano told the Senate Human Services committee that collecting better data would help the state target the most crucial issues with chronic homelessness.
Multiple studies have shown that people who are chronically homeless are more are more frequent users of expensive county and state programs ranging from emergency rooms and hospitals to jail and prison stays, he wrote.
Acquiring accurate information on the housing status of individuals applying to social welfare programs would give the state a more comprehensive picture of the homeless population using state local social benefits, he said.
Senator Carol, Liu, D-Glendale, chairwoman of the Human Services committee, who voted in favor of the measure, expressed her appreciation for Ammiano’s interest in the subject. However, prior to the vote she quickly briefed him on revisions of the bill that should be taken into consideration.
One of the greatest challenges this bill faces is establishing a single definition of homelessness, which varies widely among government agencies. The agencies this bill would impact include CalWORKS, Medi-Cal, and CalFresh.
Once a set definition of homelessness is established, a single questionnaire can be used among the different types of applications. The bill would aim to provide consistent data across the population and in effect can be used to prevent and promote housing stability for those experiencing or at risk of becoming homeless.
The Human Services Committee approved the bill on a 4-2 party-line vote, with Sens. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, and Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto voting against the measure. It was passed and referred to the Committee on Appropriations.
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