The last official tally of people living on the street was last taken in January 2020 — before COVID-19 ravaged the economy — and showed 161,548 people experiencing homelessness in California, with the biggest concentration in Los Angeles. The January 2021 count was postponed due to COVID-19, but is expected to take place again in 2022.
Those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, as they’re gathered on a single cold night in January by volunteers to provide a snapshot of homelessness. Experts say this method likely underestimates the unsheltered, and doesn’t capture the total number of people who fall into homelessness over the course of a year, which could be two or three times higher.
It’s not surprising that California, the largest state, has the biggest homeless population in the country. But while about 1 in 8 Americans lives in California, more than 1 in 4 homeless Americans live here. New York and Hawaii have slightly higher per capita rates of homelessness, but California has the largest proportion of people living without shelter – about 70% of homeless people here reside outdoors. That means the state’s homeless population is far more visible than in other places, and more vulnerable to the illness, violence and death that accompany living on the street. California also saw the largest increase in homelessness of any state in 2020, a 6.8% jump.