California’s Growing Homelessness Epidemic

As COVID-19 cases continue to climb throughout California, the rate of homelessness only increases alongside it. Even before the pandemic hit, over 150,000 Californians were homeless, representing approximately one-quarter of the homeless population in the entire country [1]. Now, approximately 43,490 households in Santa Clara County are at a high risk of facing eviction in 2021 [2], and across the entire state this number is projected to be anywhere from 4 to 5 million [3]. According to a recent report by Working Partnerships USA, if even 18% of these households end up being evicted over the course of 2021, it could triple Santa Clara County’s current homeless population [3]. In Los Angeles County, it is estimated that the individuals most likely to become homeless for some period in 2021 include approximately 184,000 children [11].

The demographics most at risk for eviction are undocumented workers and those ineligible for unemployment benefits, but anyone who has been jobless for a significant period of time since the beginning of the pandemic last spring could be at risk. Even if they are eligible for unemployment, many people are not currently receiving their benefits as California has recently suspended unemployment payments for more than 1.4 million claimants due to concerns about the potential number of fraudulent claims [9]. Considering that, in 2017, more than one third of Californian households reported having less than three months’ worth of emergency savings, any individuals who have been without work since October 2020 or earlier may now be living below the poverty line [5].

These figures paint a bleak picture of the future for California’s lowest-income households, many of whom are struggling to pay rent and put food on the table after months of joblessness due to the pandemic. Although the state-wide eviction moratorium initially introduced in August 2020 [10] has recently been extended until at least July 31st, 2021, many of these people are still unlikely to be able to afford their housing when the moratorium is lifted – and it will eventually need to be lifted. The crisis is rising at a steep pace, and it is clear more than ever that a solution is needed to help homeless Californians provide their families with shelter, security, and dignity during the upcoming months. Even setting aside the short supply of typical Californian homeless shelters and the and the complete lack of privacy within them, these shelters are proving inadequate in their ability to provide the level of sanitation and physical distancing required to keep the spread of COVID-19 at bay. Those who are older or who have chronic health issues are at even higher risk of fatality upon contracting the virus. Although efforts were made across California earlier in 2020 to reduce the density of the homeless population by allocating hotel rooms, motel rooms, and trailers to those at high risk due to health problems, many of these programs such as Project Roomkey [7] require a form of ID, which many homeless individuals do not have.

The problem of the spread of COVID-19 is exacerbated in close-knit homeless populations living outdoors, and those living in tents near bridges and in parks are seeing increases in forced relocation efforts by local government officials due to concerns about the spread of the virus. For example, the Salt Lake County Health Department has been removing people from their encampments in the Rio Grande area since mid-December, citing a lack of safety for the community when people are camped so close together [4]. In the fall of last year, law enforcement officers in Fresno County dispersed approximately 60 people from their shelters in a large underground encampment located in a farm field [8]. Of these, only 2 people are known to have ended up in a homeless shelter; the whereabouts of the rest are unknown.

BOSS Cubez aims to aid in homeless relocation strategies by providing a safer alternative to tents and other makeshift shelters while still offering a temporary and mobile option. The units can be built on-site by only two people in as little as a few hours. They are scalable, customizable, and easily relocated. BOSS Cubez is therefore able to take advantage of the large amount of unused land in California, such as vacant residential lots or empty building sites where construction is temporarily on hold. These vacant residential lots and unused development plots are another significant contributing factor to California’s homelessness problem even before the pandemic. There is little incentive for municipal governments to increase the number of residential builds when compared with the potential for high revenue-generating construction such as superstores. The pace of new residential construction in California therefore does not keep up with the population growth, much to the frustration of those who live near undeveloped lots and bear witness to the wasted space every day. In Oakland, there are over 3000 vacant lots, most of which have no current plans for future development [6]. The use of BOSS Cubez in these spaces to aid those facing eviction could help decrease the projected influx of homeless individuals to the streets and reduce the overpopulation of homeless shelters as low-income households begin getting evicted, while also improving safety for some of those who currently rely on outdoor shelters such as tents. Occupation of this land would be on a short-term basis requiring no permanent alteration to the sites, meaning the landowners would experience no asset depreciation in the interim.

The ability to support oneself and one’s family with dignity during a time of personal crisis is extremely valuable, and this idea is one of the largest motivators for BOSS Cubez. BOSS Cubez provides various layouts for private spaces including single rooms, double rooms, and family-sized shelters, as well as office spaces where individuals can work on job applications and their studies. Bathrooms, electricity, HVAC, and basic furnishings can also be included where needed. Each cube features a private entrance with a lock, good ventilation, insulation, and ensuite fire alarms and smoke detectors. The materials are eco-friendly, with recycled materials used wherever possible. The high degree of customization ability with BOSS Cubez provides individuals or families of all types with an affordable, dignified housing space, something thousands of Californians desperately need. Using these affordable, portable, and scalable shelters, homeless individuals and families can regain their independence and more easily support themselves while they transition out of the crisis period. Once the occupants are back of their feet and have found some form of more permanent housing, the cube shelters can be easily sanitized for reuse, relocated for use elsewhere, or taken apart for compact storage until needed again, thus resulting in no wasted space or materials.