Senator Wiener Introduces Right to Shelter Bill, to Ensure Homeless Individuals and Families Throughout California Have Access to Shelter

December 5, 2018

San Francisco –  Today, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced Senate Bill 48, which aims to ensure that homeless individuals and families throughout California have reasonable access to shelter, including navigation centers.  The bill is currently in “intent form,” which means the detailed policy will be developed over the coming months.  Senator Wiener plans to convene stakeholders to help craft policy that will create a “right to shelter” for unhoused residents throughout the state.

Californians currently have inconsistent access to shelter. Some counties provide significant shelter access, while others provide none or only in limited locations or during limited times of the year.

“California’s housing crisis, along with our mental health and addiction challenges, are driving people into homelessness, and we must act,” said Senator Wiener. “We must do more to ensure homeless people have access to shelter, as a way to stabilize people’s lives and help them transition to permanent housing. Shelter isn’t the ultimate goal - permanent housing is the goal - but shelter is a critical step in helping people get back on their feet. Access to shelter shouldn’t depend on where you live, yet in California today, it does. Too many parts of California either have no shelters or inadequate shelters. All of our residents deserve access to clean and safe shelter, that will give them the opportunity to attain permanent housing or services they need. I look forward to working with a broad and diverse coalition to ensure we craft policy that will help some of the most vulnerable among us.”

SB 48’s language, while preliminary, states that a right to shelter should include:

  • A safe place to sleep and keep one’s belongings.
  • An ability to access shelter without having to sign up on a daily basis.
  • An ability to remain with one’s partner.
  • An ability to access services necessary to stabilize one’s life and transition into supportive housing or permanent housing, including mental health, addiction treatment, and other services. 

SB 48 in no way aims to replace local and state efforts to ensure homeless residents have access to permanent housing. For example, right to shelter in an extreme form can go too far in absorbing resources that could go to permanent housing. Balancing resources is key. However, shelter is a critical step in providing people with safe and healthy transitional living space until they can obtain permanent housing.

While the total number of unhoused individuals is difficult to gather, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that in a single night there can be over half a million individuals experiencing homelessness in California. Given the size of our state’s homeless population, it is critical that the state play a role in ensuring all of our residents have access to shelter. While some cities and counties work effectively to provide shelter and permanent housing to their homeless residents, some do not have any shelter beds at all or only during certain times of the year, while others leave over 75 percent of their homeless residents unsheltered. California’s homeless population and the percentage of that population which is unsheltered remains the highest in the nation.

SB 48 was officially introduced on Monday Dec 3rd, when the Legislature reconvened for the 2019-2020 session. It will be set for a committee hearing in the coming months.  For the full text of SB 48, please click here.