California harbors a third of the nation’s homeless residents

Population without a home in the Golden State rises 6% to 181K people

California Harbors a Third of the Nation’s Homeless
(Photo Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty)

California is now home to nearly a third of the nation’s homeless residents.

The Golden State’s homeless population grew 6 percent this year to more than 181,000 people, the largest estimate of any state, the San Jose Mercury News reported, citing new federal data.

Homeless residents of California now account for nearly three in 10 homeless people in the U.S.

The spike in homelessness comes during mounting frustration over the state’s failure to curb homelessness after spending billions of dollars to get people off the street.

California has spent $17.5 billion battling homelessness over the past four years, according to a July report by CNN. Meanwhile, the state’s homeless population grew.

A total of $20.6 billion has been allocated through next year to combat homelessness. 

Nearly $4 billion went to local governments to spend on anti-homelessness initiatives, according to CNN, while $3.7 billion went to Project Homekey, a program funneling money to local governments to buy properties like motels and commercial buildings to turn into permanent, affordable housing. By last summer, 13,500 units had been completed.

Shangri-La Industries, a developer based in Los Angeles, received $120 million in Project Homekey grants, but couldn’t repay its loans, defaulting on seven hotels slated for conversions over the last six months, according to reports by The Real Deal.

Experts and advocates say that while drugs and mental health play a significant role, the homelessness crisis will persist until the state can reverse its intensifying affordable housing shortage, according to the Mercury News.

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Between 2000 and 2021, California’s typical rent rose 38 percent while renter income increased 7 percent, according to the nonprofit California Housing Partnership

“California’s homelessness crisis is being driven by the same factors that are driving the crisis in the rest of the country, but driven to the extreme,” Alex Visotzky, senior California policy fellow with the nonprofit National Alliance to End Homelessness, told the Mercury News.

California also had the fourth-highest rate of homelessness, with 46 unhoused people for every 10,000 residents. The state trailed New York with 52, Oregon with 51 and Vermont with 48. The national figure was 22.

But the Golden State had the largest share of homeless people living outdoors or in cars, at 68 percent, with the rest in shelters or temporary housing.

The U.S. homeless population increased 12 percent between 2022 and 2023 to more than 650,000 people — the highest since the Department of Housing and Urban Development began collecting data in 2007. 

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The increase in homelessness in California and the U.S. follows rising housing costs and the expiration of pandemic emergency programs, including expanded unemployment assistance, rental aid and eviction moratoriums.

In the Bay Area, homelessness increased 1 percent in Santa Clara County, 4 percent in Contra Costa County, while declining 4 percent in San Francisco, according to previous data.

Alameda and San Mateo counties, however, saw their homeless populations jump by 20 percent. Across the five-county region, the estimates identified 31,000 homeless people.

— Dana Bartholomew