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    Basic Income Grants to Reduce Homelessness in Los Angeles

    Year: 2024

    Although serious mental illness (SMI) and substance use disorders (SUD) are more prevalent among unhoused people, it is wrong to assume that these conditions are the sole cause of their homelessness. In Los Angeles County, about 95.3% of adults with SMI and 97% of people with SUD are housed. In a recent survey included in the annual homelessness count, about 42% of unhoused people said they had neither a SMI nor SUD problem. When asked why they lost their housing, 27% cited an SMI or SUD problem, but 73% cited other reasons, including 48% who blamed unemployment or another financial reason. Put simply, many unhoused people in Los Angeles—about 32,000, disproportionately people of color —have a central problem much more easily addressed than SMI or SUD: They are extremely poor.

    Public policy in Los Angeles regarding homelessness has long been blind to this fact. For many years, public policy has focused almost entirely on short-term responses that still leave people homeless and on the shortage of affordable housing, with virtually no attention given to income—the factor that determines the meaning of affordable. The consequence of this focus on only half the problem is that Los Angeles has created a very complex, bureaucratic, and expensive system that struggles to find even “interim” housing for those who are unhoused. That system ignores the potential of many unhoused people to solve their housing problems if they had a little more money.

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