The Bay Area could end its homelessness problem with an $11.8 billion investment, according to a report by the Bay Area Council, a business advocacy group.

The report, released June 3, calls for one-time annual investments totaling $9.3 billion and $2.5 billion. Authors of the report say the money could come from local, regional, and state sources, including a voter-approved measure that raises $10 billion.

Sobering statistics on homelessness in the region show that 73 percent of the homeless population is unsheltered, the highest rate in the nation.

Also, the rise in homelessness in the region has accounted for 30 percent of total rise in homelessness in the country since 2017. Since 2010, the Bay Area’s homeless population has grown four times faster than the region’s population.

“We have an opportunity to improve on what’s been done before,”

Adrian Covert, economist

“They (homeless people) are our neighbors,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who is vice chair of the Bay Area Council’s Economic Institute, which wrote the report.

Last week, Schaaf and two Oakland City Council members announced legislation to provide opportunities for the private market to supply Oakland with lower-cost housing such as mobile and manufactured homes.

The legislation also provides opportunities for people to live in tiny homes and recreational vehicles without the fear of having to leave those homes at some point.

“They (homeless people) deserve better” and we must do better, said Paul Markovich, president and CEO of Blue Shield of California, which provided support for the report.

More state funding is key to achieving some goals in the report and state lawmakers face a June 15 deadline to approve a new state budget.

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A novel approach

Researchers at the institute, including economist Adrian Covert, who presented the report’s findings in a webinar, suggests taking an approach that has not been tried before in the U.S.

That approach goes beyond a mandate to provide shelter to people, something Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed at one time.

Mandates have been effective in New York and other places in getting people off the street, but people are languishing in shelters for years.

Instead, the institute’s team recommended a blended approach that includes increasing the number of temporary or emergency shelters, expanding services such as rental assistance so people can stay in their homes, and building lots of housing for extremely low-, very low- and low-income residents.

The institute’s researchers also recommend investing in mental health and substance abuse programs, something they said is critical.

“We have an opportunity to improve on what’s been done before,” Covert said.

The report recommends passing the $10 billion ballot measure and passing legislation to make it easier to build new housing, especially rental housing.

It also recommends declaring a shelter crisis in cities where 10 percent of the homeless people are unsheltered. That would trigger the quick approval of new shelters.

Lastly, it recommends more federal money to fully fund the Section 8 program.

“I think it’s time to take it with the seriousness it (homelessness) deserves,” Markovich said.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.