Report: Bay Area homeless crisis among nation's worst, would take $12.7B to build enough housing

Jamal Porter says he's been sleeping in a tent encampment in West Oakland for the past six months, ever since after he lost his job on top of a family crisis.

"It's easy to get your feet in the gutter. It's hard to get them out," Porter said.

Porter's tent is just across the street from St. Vincent DePaul where community leaders met to discuss a new report Wednesday, detailing just how big a problem homelessness is in the Bay Area.

Among the findings: The Bay Area homeless population is more than 28,000. 

That's the third largest homeless population in the U.S., behind only New York and Los Angeles.

"This is not a problem for social services. It is not a problem for govt. It is a problem for every sector of our society including the private sector," said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

The report was written by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, a business think tank.

It found that two-thirds of homeless people are unsheltered, living in cars or on the streets.  That's double the national average. 

"It's like a city of people who are without shelter," said Jim Wunderman, executive director of the Bay Area Council.

If gathered in one place, the report found the homeless population would be as large or larger than that of roughly half the cities in the region. 

The report found that homelessness is such a massive problem each city can no longer try to tackle it on its own.

It recommends a regional approach, with shared resources and a better tracking system for those seeking help. That could include a task force or a new state Homeless Services Agency to coordinate efforts and funding across multiple layers of state and local governments. 

"The Bay Area's homeless crisis is a regional humanitarian crisis that does not abide traditional local boundaries... One city, one county alone cannot solve homelessness, but that's largely how we've been approaching it," Micah Weinberg, president of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, said in a statement.

It also recommends focusing on preventing homelessness. But the report says the main solution is to build more low-income housing. 

"We failed at every level to build enough homes. The lack of tending to it over decades has created a tremendous problem," said Wunderman.

Their report found that diversion and prevention programs aimed at keeping at-risk residents in their homes are cost effective, compared to alternatives, and recommended providing more accommodations for the unsheltered. 

The report says the cost to build enough housing for the current Bay Area homeless population is $12.7 billion. The authors of the report say it’s a lot of money but it is achievable.

"It takes everyone to be concerned and have that knowledge that even you too can be in a situation," said Porter.

The report cites a number of successful efforts to house the homeless such as Tuff Shed villages in Oakland and rapid-rehousing programs San Francisco, as well as millions invested by the private sector, but points out they haven't yet solved the crisis. 

Bay City News contributed to this report