At last official count 151,278 individuals are homeless in California, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That’s the highest number since at least 2007, and represents a nearly 17% uptick since 2018. The number of unsheltered Californians — living on the streets or in cars — has surged the past year.
Official homelessness statistics mostly come from “one night counts” — a volunteer-led snapshot of the number of people experiencing homelessness one night in January. 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 9 Americans lives in California, roughly 1 in 4 homeless Americans lives here. New York and Hawaii have slightly higher per capita rates of homelessness, but California has the largest proportion of people living without shelter. 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.
And although states such as Texas and New York have seen a slight uptick in their homeless counts since last year, California saw the largest proportional swell of any state besides New Mexico. The Trump administration is quick to point out that the country would have seen an overall decline in homelessness if California and Oregon were excluded from the count.