Are they local, or are they coming from somewhere else?

One of the more enduring myths about California’s homeless population is that the vast majority have traveled here from other states, seeking generous government assistance and weather more hospitable to living outdoors. It’s a baseless claim perpetuated by both sides of the aisle — Gov. Newsom has made it repeatedly.

Pinning down data on this issue is a challenge. But recent data provided to the state by 42 of the 44 local agencies that manage homeless dollars shows that between 2018 and 2020, 96% of people who accessed homeless services did so in a single jurisdiction. Most of the people who moved went to neighboring counties, which the state says suggests “homelessness within California is not a problem of migration.”

Local surveys also indicate people living on the streets are typically from the surrounding neighborhood. Example: 70% of San Francisco’s homeless people were housed somewhere in the city when they lost housing; only 8% came from out of state. Three-quarters of Los Angeles County’s homeless population lived in the region before becoming homeless in 2020.

There’s little evidence to suggest undocumented immigrants constitute a large share of California’s homeless population. But those that are unhoused are particularly difficult to help. Crucial safety net resources such as Social Security, Section 8 housing vouchers and food stamps are unavailable to the undocumented, who often resist engagement with homeless services providers because of deportation fears. Language and cultural barriers also complicate re-housing efforts.