Homelessness Grew in California in 2023, but at a Slower Pace than the Rest of the U.S.

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California continues to lose ground in its fight against homelessness, according to the latest data released Friday by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. California’s homeless population grew six percent since 2022 to a record 181,399 individuals on any given night, or 28 percent of the total U.S. homeless population despite the state comprising only 12 percent of the total U.S. population. California’s unsheltered homeless population—comprised of individuals sleeping outside—such as in tents or cars—increased seven percent to 123,423 individuals. Sixty-eight percent of homeless Californians lack access to shelter, the highest rate in the U.S.

For California, which has spent over $17 billion fighting homelessness since 2019, the only possible silver lining is that homelessness increased even faster, 15 percent, in the rest of the U.S. On a per-capita basis, California was dethroned as the state with the highest rate of homelessness by Oregon, Vermont, and New York, whose homeless populations increased by 13, 19, and 40 percent, respectively. Homelessness in Texas and Florida, often portrayed as California’s primary ideological and economic rivals, increased 12 and 18 percent, respectively. Homelessness in the Bay Area fell four percent, led by 23 and 22 percent declines in Contra Costa and Sonoma Counties. The counts for other Bay Area counties remained within 3 percent of their 2022 counts.

The results demonstrate the national spread of a housing shortage whose symptoms first emerged in California about a decade ago. Across the U.S. housing costs remain the best predictor of high rates of homelessness, better than either poverty or substance abuse rates. The results also highlight the inability to scale permanent supportive housing, the favored intervention of homeless advocates, faster than the rate at which the state’s housing shortage is creating homeless people. California has added about 36,000 units of all permanent housing since 2019 even as the number of people sleeping on California’s streets increased by 15,000 during the same period.

Unsheltered homelessness has been shown to drastically increase risk of assault, homicide, infectious disease, chronic disease, accidental death, while worsening psychiatric disorders and substance abuse disorders and depriving all Californians of access to public spaces. California urgently needs cost-effective, rapid solutions to bring people indoors, save lives, and restore access to public spaces. Which is why the Council’s Housing Committee is working to increase housing production across the board while the Council’s Homelessness Committee is working with Senator Becker, DignityMoves, The Salvation Army, SPUR, and others to fast track interim housing solutions in the immediate term. To engage with the Council’s Homelessness Committee, please contact Senior Vice President Adrian Covert.

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