The Association of Health Care Journalists held a two-day summit on “Homelessness and Health Care” on November 2nd and 3rd. The summit was held at the Waterfront Hotel – JDV by Hyatt in Oakland and was hosted by the California Health Care Foundation and supported by the Commonwealth Fund and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The purpose of the summit was to aid journalists in reporting more effectively on housing disparities by addressing challenges related to mental health and housing inequity and by providing the most current research on the topic. Homelessness is a pressing issue for policymakers across the country but especially in California, where the housing crisis is most severe. According to The Public Policy Institute of California, there are approximately 115,491 homeless individuals in California, accounting for about 30% of all homeless people in the United States.

Mark Horvath, founder and CEO of Invisible People, was featured during a panel on elevating homeless stories. Hovarth, who was formerly homeless himself and has since become an advocate for those facing housing inequity, highlighted the importance of centering the narratives of unhoused individuals. Horvath’s nonprofit organization is committed to raising awareness of homelessness through innovative storytelling, news and advocacy by interviewing numerous homeless individuals, inquiring about their experiences.

The summit’s keynote speaker Margot Kushel, M.D., shared highlights from the landmark California Statewide Study on People Experiencing Homelessness (CASPEH), released in June 2023. The CASPEH, conducted by The University of California, is the largest representative study of homelessness since the mid-1990s.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg was also in attendance during the summit. The politician and former attorney has been a vocal supporter of investing in mental health awareness and solving the housing crisis. In 2022, he increased the city’s inventory of emergency shelter beds from less than 100 to 1,100. Additionally, Sacramento secured $64 million from the Whole Person Care Pilot (WPC), which allowed the city to use Medi-Cal funds for outreach, case management and housing coordination services for unhoused residents.

Keynote speaker Margot Kushel, M.D., shared highlights from the CASPEH report conducted by The University of California. Photo by Michelle Zacarias for CALÓ NEWS.

CALÓ NEWS asked Mayor Steinberg how he planned to address the undocumented homeless population, especially given the fact that Latinos are less likely to engage in housing resources. “We will continue to do our best to help people regardless of immigration status,” he said. The mayor cited the fact that during the third wave of migration, Texas Governor Greg Abbott transported over 40 people to California on buses, including children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to Sacramento. 

“We welcomed people, we took care of them and we helped people settle,” Steinberg said. “Hard-working undocumented immigrants are every bit a part of our community as anybody else.”

Michelle Zacarias is an award-winning journalist and adjunct instructor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, where she teaches Engaging Diverse Communities. Originally from Chicago...