Rising homeless in California


The sleeping couple is among 151,000 people living on the streets in California, and as the number climbs each year, many wonder how the state's housing crisis got so bad. Part of the answer lies in what happened last week when lawmakers failed to pass legislation that promised to ease the housing shortage by creating more density near jobs and transit routes.

This is starting to change, however. Los Angeles, the city with the state's largest homeless population at 59,000, according to last year's point-in-time count, has been pouring money into the problem for several years with mixed results.

Homelessness among families is also down over the last decade. Still, about 8,000 families and 14,000 children were homeless in California last year, according to point-in-time estimates. Unlike households without children, those with at least one child are far more likely to utilize emergency shelter or transitional housing. One striking statistic: Infancy is the age at which a person in the United States is most likely to be found in a homeless shelter.

The impact of the Boise decision remains unclear. Police departments and sheriffs still can enforce various “quality of life” ordinances, as well as bans against public defecation and drug use. Many advocates say issuing citations against these behaviors is counterproductive, because people experiencing homelessness have few resources to pay off city fines, and brief incarceration episodes only add to housing instability.

This year in California, an additional 21,306 people were living without shelter, according to HUD's estimates. The department said the national number for those chronically homeless, defined as being on the street a year or more, rose 8.5 percent, mostly as a result of California's data, HUD said.

Still, 29 states and the District of Columbia reported declines in the number of people living on the streets. Veterans were down 2.1 percent; families with children 4.8 percent; and homeless youth and children 3.6 percent, HUD reported.

The crisis is so acute that only 53 percent of California voters say they can afford to live in the Golden State, according to a 2019 Quinnipiac poll. Over the last decade, rents have increased at twice the national average, and the median home price now exceeds $600,000, according to the California Association of Realtors.

Emergency Shelters: These are any facilities that provide temporary shelter for people experiencing homelessness. At their most basic they are a barracks-like arrangement of cots, and provide a bed and a meal. Typically they are operated by publicly funded nonprofit and religious organizations. Many shelters bar residents from staying with partners or pets, and are often viewed by homeless people as dangerous and dirty, even compared to sleeping on the streets. A KPCC investigation of Los Angeles area shelters last year found reports of rats, bedbugs, foul odors and harassment rampant at several shelters.

The latest numbers could fuel the Trump administration’s recent interest in combating homelessness in California, as the president decries damage to the “prestige” of the country’s cities and laments people living on its “best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings.” Federal officials are considering creating new temporary facilities and refurbishing existing ones, along with the controversial measure of razing encampments, The Washington Post reported this fall.

"Without federal leadership, California is making historic investments," he said. "But we have work to do and we need the federal government to do its part.”

California homeless counts show an uptick across the state. In Los Angeles, numbers released Tuesday show a 12% increase to about 59,000 people living on the streets or in cars.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates 1.3 million renters in California have incomes at or below federal poverty guidelines, but there are just 286,844 affordable units across the state.

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