Myth vs. Fact
Debunking Common Myths
About Housing & Homelessness
There are numerous factors that can lead a person to experience homelessness – many of which have nothing to do with personal shortcomings. In fact, the most commonly-cited cause of homelessness – a job loss – is an experience many of us share and often for reasons entirely outside of our control.
Moreover, while much attention is given to individual factors, a growing body of research has demonstrated homelessness is rooted in deep structural problems – most notably, the lack of affordable housing options in many communities across the country. People everywhere struggle with personal challenges, but it’s only in communities with exorbitant housing costs where we see so many vulnerable individuals become homeless.
Recent research published in the book, Homelessness is a Housing Problem, found a strong correlation between communities with high housing costs and homelessness, but no such correlation in communities with high levels of mental illness or substance abuse. This finding was supported by a 2020 U.S GAO report found that rental prices in a community were associated with levels of homelessness:
Yes, many people experiencing homelessness also suffer from mental health and addiction challenges. However, data from our community’s biannual homelessness census and survey shows this represents a minority of people experiencing homelessness – and it’s important to remember that these conditions are just as often a result of living on the streets rather than the cause of one’s homelessness.
Sadly, these two issues are commonly conflated, the result of popular stereotypes promulgated by the media, political rhetoric and common fears. People experiencing homelessness are more likely to be the victim of a crime than commit one. And while any given demographic includes people who have committed crimes, there’s no reason to suspect that a person experiencing homelessness poses a greater danger than anybody else you come across while walking down the street.
Data from our community’s biannual homelessness census and survey has consistently shown that around 85% of people experiencing homelessness were living in Santa Clara County when they became homeless, and that more than half had been living in our community for more than a decade before becoming homeless.
Furthermore, research featured in the book Homelessness is a Housing Problem, demonstrated there is no correlation between communities with fairer weather or generous public services and communities with high levels of homelessness.
A large body of scientific studies have shown that when people are connected to affordable housing and services, the vast majority remain stably housed. And we have seen impressive results in many of our own local housing programs:
These outcomes hold true even for ‘harder to serve’ individuals, and studies show Housing First programs have even higher success rates than programs mandating treatment or sobriety first.
We know housing programs work, now we just need to scale these programs to meet the size of the crisis.
Data from our community’s biannual homelessness census and survey consistently shows that roughly 9 out of 10 people experiencing homelessness were interested in finding permanent housing. And just as importantly our data shows that the vast majority of people who are connected to safe, stable and affordable housing remain housed (view County system performance data).
The truth is most people experiencing homelessness would jump at the chance to find safe and stable housing, but there simply aren’t options available to them they can afford.
There is no doubt that housing programs cost money, particularly in a high-cost region like ours – however, the cost of inaction is far greater. A 2015 study found that homelessness exacted a huge hidden cost – half-a-billion dollars in public safety services in Santa Clara County annually – and that providing housing to chronically homeless individuals can actually cost less than what’d we spend responding to their needs while living on the streets.
It’s also important to remember that the amount of funding the government spends on housing and homelessness represents just a fraction of the overall budget. In fact, at the federal level, the amount spent on affordable housing and homelessness programs for low-income individuals pales in comparison to the cost of subsidizing homeowners via the mortgage interest deduction.
There is a large body of research refuting the misconception that affordable housing developments bring more crime or decrease property values to a neighborhood. This includes a recent UC Irvine study that found that new affordable housing developments actually increase nearby property values and reduce nearby crimes.
In addition, these developments create a much broader set of benefits to the public – not only providing more affordable housing options, but also supporting new jobs and generating new tax revenues in the communities where they’re built.
Our community-wide effort has encompassed several successful initiatives to address homelessness. We’ve helped more than 10,000 homeless people access permanent housing since 2020; we’re narrowing the gap between the number of new people falling into homelessness and the number of people connected to housing in a given year; and we’re now seeing our overall rates of homelessness level out.
The reason this progress isn’t apparent is because we haven’t addressed the core affordability problems driving this crisis, and despite the billions spent, we’re still not investing at the scale needed to meet the magnitude of the problem. This is a crisis decades in the making, and it’s going to take a sustained commitment to ending it.
While homelessness is a serious systemic problem that requires big structural changes, we all have important individual roles to play in solving this crisis. It starts by educating ourselves and getting proximate to the problem (by volunteering at, donating to, and/or supporting efforts to address homelessness). But most importantly, we all need to use our voice to support proven solutions to our homelessness crisis – advocating for pro-housing candidates and measures at the ballot box, and urging your elected officials to support policies and affordable housing proposals when they come up for a vote.