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Shelter and Safety Among People Experiencing Homelessness During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Finding a safe place to sleep is frequently the most significant hardship facing people experiencing homelessness. Most people experiencing homelessness are unsheltered, with 2020 point-in-time (PIT) data showing that 161,548 people were experiencing homelessness in California, while the state had only 53,265 shelter beds. Exacerbating an already insufficient number of shelter beds and permanent homes, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted the ways that people experiencing homelessness have navigated finding shelter.

Shelter and Safety Among People Experiencing Homelessness During the COVID-19 Pandemic, authored by our Senior Research Associate Ryan Finnigan, presents findings from a survey conducted last year on people’s experiences of homelessness in Sacramento, with a focus on their perceptions of safety in sheltered and unsheltered sleeping options.

The brief finds that people felt much safer in shelters than in unsheltered situations, with unsheltered LGBTQ people and women feeling especially unsafe. About one in six people said they had avoided shelters due to concerns about COVID-19, which often pushed them into sleeping situations they viewed as unsafe. Difficulty accessing shelters, cleanliness, lack of autonomy, and other safety concerns were also raised as barriers for using shelters.

The results point to a need to expand the number of non-congregate shelter options and invest heavily in permanent supportive housing, including through programs like California’s Homekey initiative, which we assessed in a recent brief. Read the full paper on our website here.

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