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More Than 1 In 3 Californians Fear Becoming Homeless

A homeless man sleeps on a bus bench on a hot day in downtown Los Angeles. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)
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More than one in four California voters say they personally know someone who is homeless, according to a new poll.

So perhaps it's not surprising that the poll also found more than a third are afraid they or a family member could actually become homeless, and that they consider homelessness to be the most important issue facing the state, ahead of:

  • Climate change
  • Immigration
  • Health care
  • And, yes, Donald Trump

The poll was conducted by the USC Price School of Public Policy and the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy ahead of the March 3 primary.
Dr. Gary Painter, who directs USC's Sol Price Center for Social Innovation and the Homelessness Policy Research Institute, told KPCC the finding about voters' fears stood out in particular:

"The fear level that people have with respect to either themselves or someone else in their family experiencing homelessness is quite high. And perhaps it shouldn't be surprising because there's over 1.3 million households in California paying more than half their income as rent. Of that group, perhaps only 1% in any given year become homeless, but we saw that 37.5% of voters are afraid that either themselves or someone in their family could become homeless. That was a bit shocking."

The poll's findings also suggest that voters' attitudes toward homelessness represent a mix of compassion and enforcement. For example, only 28% favor an "enforcement first" approach, while 50% support allowing families with children to stay unhoused on the street if there are no other options, and 65% support providing interim housing while also removing people from the streets.
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Painter said taken as a whole, the poll provides evidence that giving the public more information about the issue can change atittudes.

"Having an understanding that economic forces are driving first time homelessness actually does change how people think about the problem," he said.