Experiencing homelessness: Every Bay Area resident should have a safe, affordable place to live — and everyone experiencing homelessness should have access to comprehensive rehousing support.

Insights & Analyses

  • Though Black residents constitute 6 percent of the nine-county Bay Area population overall, about 25 percent of all unhoused residents are Black. This disproportionality remains true for all counties in the Bay Area.
  • Among all unhoused residents in the nine-county Bay Area region, Asian American residents and Pacific Islander residents have the lowest shelter rates.
  • Unhoused residents who identify as transgender and unhoused residents who identify as non-binary or other have lower shelter rates compared to those who identify as male and those who identify as female.
  • From 2019 to 2022, the rate of homelessness for Pacific Islander residents rose from 125 per 10,000 residents to 176 per 10,000 residents. During the same period, the rate of homelessness for Native American residents declined from 255 per 10,000 residents to 178 per 10,000 residents.

Drivers of Inequity

While the Bay Area has witnessed a surge in extreme wealth with the tech boom, the region also has seen a growing crisis in extreme poverty and a spike in its unhoused population. Regional income inequality has worsened over the past 40 years, as inflation-adjusted wages have declined for the bottom 40 percent of wage earners since 1980. The region-wide housing crisis also has led to rapid increases in rent in recent decades, creating a continual need for additional affordable housing. Preexisting homeless prevention and care systems have faced increasing capacity challenges with a growing unhoused population. For many, homelessness is an understandably distressing and traumatizing experience, which compounds mental and physical health crises, substance addictions, and other complex care needs among unhoused people and increases the likelihood that people will be incarcerated. A holistic approach to homelessness must address root economic causes while also supporting the existing population of people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness.


Strengthen places: Strategies to ensure affordable housing is available to all

Strategy in Action

San Mateo County's Navigation Center provides a stepping stone for people experiencing homelessness. In 2023, San Mateo County opened the Navigation Center, a 240-bed homeless shelter and wraparound service center in Redwood City. Funded by $55 million in state-sponsored Homekey grants and $5 million from philanthropist John Sobrato, the Navigation Center offers temporary housing for people experiencing homelessness alongside recreational facilities and comprehensive supportive services, such as health and dental care, trauma counseling, and substance use treatment. Couples can room together and clients can bring their dogs. Operated by the local nonprofit LifeMoves, the Navigation Center reflects San Mateo County’s “housing first” approach to homelessness, or the strategy of placing people into housing before addressing the complex host of care needs that can contribute to their being unhoused. The county’s goal is to achieve “functional zero” for its unhoused population — that is, the county can provide housing and shelter care for every resident who wants it. Learn more.

Photo: County of San Mateo

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