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Polco News & Knowledge

Gardena Gets Community Input on How To Reduce Homelessness

gardena plan on how to reduce homelessness

The California city saw a 160% increase in homelessness from 2018 to 2022. Gardena had no official plan to address the concern, so they surveyed their community to come up with ideas. 

At A Glance

  • The City of Gardena, California, recently saw its population of unhoused residents skyrocket. The City provides services but never had a dedicated homelessness plan. They needed an official plan to address the issue and apply for grant funding in the future. 

  • As part of planning research, Gardena wanted to understand how the community felt about homelessness in their city. They surveyed residents on Polco to get the answers. 

  • Officials learned what services residents think are the most important and how they overlapped with other stakeholder opinions. They included resident feedback in the community engagement, goal setting, and strategy development parts of the plan. The feedback also legitimized strategy decisions.  


Gardena Needed A Plan on How To Reduce Homelessness

The combined economic pressures of  the pandemic, inflation, and high housing costs put significant strain on residents all across the US and pushed many people on the street. The unhoused population in Gardena, California, increased a whopping 160% from 2018 to 2022. But they did not have any official strategy to confront the growing issue. 

In addition to more people on the street, Homeless Coordinator for the City, Dianna Espinoza, said that applications for Covid relief brought previously unknown at-risk people to the surface. Around 1600 people applied for pandemic relief, 526 of whom faced eviction. Yet, less than half of the applicants qualified for assistance, justifying more of a need for support services. 

Dianna_EspinozaDianna Espinoza, Homeless Coordinator for the City of Gardena

Gardena currently offers case management, a food pantry, and outreach, but Espinoza said the City is a bit behind in its service offerings. They also don’t have a local shelter. An official plan would help the City take on the complex matter. and apply for homelessness grants in the future.

As part of the planning research, the City wanted community input on how they would address the problem. 

Solutions Used

Gardena Created a Polco Survey To Get Resident Input on Improving Homelessness Services

“We wanted to get a good idea of what the community wanted homeless services to look like,” Espinoza said. “[Our residents] have lived experience. They see the issue of homelessness in their city every day, so we really want their input on what they feel the city needs.”

Gardena used Polco, which allows leaders to quickly poll verified residents on important local government topics. 


Slide from the City of Gardena City Council Study Session for Homelessness Plan Development using Polco Survey Data

The City received around 170 responses from people who lived and worked in the area. Around 75% of respondents said homelessness in Gardena was a moderate to extreme challenge. The survey also revealed that 84% of respondents said addressing homelessness was important or essential.

In addition to demonstrating the need for services, the survey showed what services residents thought were most important. Access to support, such as behavioral health and substance use treatment, was the top need according to 81% of residents, followed by outreach services (63%), then affordable permanent housing, (58%). 

Officials included the community feedback in a draft version, slated for approval in May 2023.


Slide from the City of Gardena City Council Study Session for Homelessness Plan Development using Polco Survey Data


Surveying on Polco Helped The City of Gardena Draft a Plan to Reduce Homelessness

While the draft is in the approval phase, Espinoza said they included survey data in the community engagement, goal setting, and strategy development parts of the plan. 

The draft included a summary of findings that identified aligned stakeholder priorities. There were four overlapping priorities from the Polco survey, input from the homelessness task force,  input from people who are experiencing homelessness, City Council, and external stakeholders. Aligned priorities included health and safety concerns, a lack of affordable housing, and worry about an increase in homelessness.

Officials also included survey findings in a homelessness landscape analysis presented to the City Council to justify the need for a plan.


Espinoza said the survey also showed that education should be an essential component of the strategy. Many people don’t know what services the City currently provides. And many people don’t understand the complexities of homelessness and what strategies work. 

“The real solution to homelessness, there are a lot of factors that play into it, but in the end, it’s affordable housing,” she said. Yet, 58% of residents thought affordable housing was a priority.  “[We have to] educate the community about what is homelessness–what does it look like?– showing them there is more to it than having a food pantry, or free showers, or more outreach. There also needs to be transitional or permanent housing.”

While Espinoza said there was nothing on the survey that came as a surprise, officials learned that residents overwhelmingly supported the idea of addressing homelessness in Gardena. And they learned what services community members valued most.

With the success of the initial survey, Gardena recently launched another homelessness-related survey on Polco. The new survey asks residents for feedback to identify housing and community service needs throughout the City. That information will help allocate $1,040,280 of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars. Similar to the homelessness plan survey, The ARPA survey showed the majority of residents thought support services were the most important priority. 

How to address homelessness is often a divisive issue. Understanding what residents prioritize can boost community support for services. In Gardena's case, surveying showed that many stakeholder priorities aligned. The survey also identified the need for more community education around homelessness.

Reducing homelessness is a challenge, but surveying residents served as a thoughtful first step. The results validated decisions and gave Gardena officials the confidence to move forward with their plan. 

Learn how Polco can help you connect to your community on homelessness, affordable housing, and other topics by connecting with one of our engagement experts

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