Understanding the costs of homelessness in San Joaquin County allows us to better assess the current situation and determine need, track trends, compare changes over time, evaluate the effectiveness of different approaches, and compare costs. This data can also contribute to policy changes, inform grant applications and strategies, and help groups advocate for more funding and support to address homelessness. To that end, we conducted the first San Joaquin County Costs of Homelessness survey, the results of which are contained in this report. Over 140 organizations assisting people experiencing homelessness were contacted and asked to submit data. Their efforts and responses, along with extrapolated data, provided valuable information on the local costs of homelessness.
Homelessness inflicts serious damage on individuals of all ages, families, and entire communities, both financially and in other ways. Such costs include physical, psychological, productivity, and opportunity costs with no certain monetary equivalent. In California, the government, nonprofits, and healthcare providers have spent billions of dollars to address the issue of homelessness. As of January 2020, it is estimated that 161,500 people are homeless in California, which is 28% of the nation’s homeless population. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, California was projected to spend $7.2 billion on 30 different programs to address homelessness in 2021-2022. This comes to about $45,000 per person who is homeless.
Historically, most spending on homelessness has taken place at the local level, but recent expenditures from the state and federal government reflect their playing a larger role than in the past. This includes one-time funding to local governments, such as that supporting the conversion of former hotels into housing units to be owned and operated locally. To make the most of such investments, a handful of regions throughout the state have conducted cost studies to analyze the amount of money spent addressing homelessness. These studies have enabled further comparison of cost effectiveness, such as between the per-person cost of reactive expenditures to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness on an ad hoc basis, and the per-person cost of proactive expenditures, such as focusing on prevention and the Housing First model, which provides unconditional housing linked to additional services. These studies often demonstrate the effectiveness of investing in such housing.
This report estimates the total monetary cost of homelessness in San Joaquin County in fiscal year 2021 to have been somewhere between $131.8 million and $160.2 million. This cost was calculated by conservatively accounting for direct economic costs incurred by local government, nonprofits, and healthcare providers. With just over 2,300 people experiencing homelessness in San Joaquin County, the estimated average cost per person was between $56,800 and $69,100. In order to improve the accuracy and utility of future cost estimates, this report calls for community stakeholders to track expenditures by intervention and client type. It is through commitment to human dignity, inclusion, and collaboration that we can move closer to achieving zero functional homelessness in San Joaquin County.