California accounts for 30% of nation’s homeless, feds say

Your guide to California policy and politics
Emily Hoeven BY Emily Hoeven December 20, 2022
Presented by UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institute, Western States Petroleum Association, FIX PAGA: A Better, Fairer Way for Workers and Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership

California accounts for 30% of nation’s homeless, feds say

The numbers are in, and they’re grim.

California accounted for 30% of the country’s homeless population in 2022, despite making up less than 12% of the total population, according to federal data released Monday. It was also home to 50% of the country’s unsheltered people, or those living in places such as streets, cars or parks.

Based on a biennial point-in-time tally of people sleeping in shelters, cars and on the street — which California cities and counties conducted earlier this year for the first time since 2019 due to pandemic postponements — the U.S. Department of Housing and Community Development estimated that more than 172,000 Californians experienced homelessness this year. That represents an adjusted total of raw numbers first calculated in October by CalMatters housing reporter Manuela Tobias. Nationally, the homeless population ticked up by 0.3% to more than 582,000.

The federal government also awarded California first place in a number of other categories:

  • It had the country’s highest homelessness rate, with 44 people out of every 10,000 experiencing homelessness.
  • It had the largest increase in its homeless population of any other state from both 2020-22 (6.2%) and 2007-22 (23.4%), whereas Florida — a state often in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s crosshairs as he spars with its Republican governor Ron DeSantis — saw a 5.6% decrease from 2020-22 and notched the country’s biggest decrease from 2007-22 (46%).
  • California had nine times more unsheltered people than Washington, the state with the next highest number (115,491 people compared to 12,668 people).

Also Monday, President Joe Biden’s administration unveiled a blueprint to slash homelessness nationwide 25% by 2025 — though details remain sparse. The administration plans to launch a program early next year to help certain cities address homeless encampments, but has so far declined to specify which ones, according to the Mercury News.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass is set today to launch a program to start moving the city’s estimated 40,000 homeless people into hotels and motels, the Associated Press reports. The plan appears to be modeled on Newsom’s Project Roomkey and Homekey, which the governor unveiled during the pandemic to help slow the spread of COVID among unhoused people and ultimately boost the state’s supply of affordable housing.

Bass, who declared a homelessness state of emergency on her first day in office last week, also issued a sweeping executive order Friday that aims to significantly speed up the development of 100% affordable housing by requiring city agencies to finish reviewing applications within 60 days — instead of the typical six to nine months.

  • Gray Lusk, chief operating officer of SoLa Impact, a private developer of affordable housing, told the Los Angeles Times: “This type of action is what’s needed to make a material impact on affordable housing development in Los Angeles. But she has her hands full getting this implemented with the bureaucracy of several city departments, and I think she is going to have to ‘break a few eggs’ over there to make this omelet.”
  • Homeless advocates are also concerned the unhoused population could increase after Feb. 1, when the city is set to lift a pandemic rule that blocked landlords from evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent and other reasons. Los Angeles County’s similar eviction ban ends Dec. 31.

Indeed, the challenges state lawmakers and local policymakers face in making a dent in California’s homelessness crisis are massive. In San Diego County, for example, almost 1,000 people became homeless in November while only about 600 found some type of housing; over the past year, 13 people became homeless there for every 10 who were housed, according to a new San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness report.

And a year and a half after the Biden administration distributed $1.1 billion in emergency housing vouchers to keep people in their homes during the pandemic, less than 50% of California’s are in use, largely because of bureaucratic hurdles in certain areas such as San Francisco, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.

Even as some developers remain bullish on San Francisco, others are rethinking their investments amid tech layoffs, high interest rates, nation-leading construction costs and the city’s glacial approval process. The result, according to the San Francisco Chronicle: Numerous stalled development sites, which would have originally created hundreds of new housing units, are now attracting homeless encampments, illegal dumping and illicit drug use.

For the record: An earlier version of this item gave an incorrect homelessness rate for California. This item was also updated to clarify that California had the largest increase in the absolute number of people experiencing homelessness between 2007-22 and 2020-22, not the largest percentage increase.


1 California goes national

First Partner of California Jennifer Siebel Newsom speaks in Los Angeles on May 14, 2022. Photo by Aude Guerrucci, Reuters
First Partner of California Jennifer Siebel Newsom speaks in Los Angeles on May 14, 2022. Photo by Aude Guerrucci, Reuters

California was implicated Monday in three significant national stories:

  • A Los Angeles jury convicted Harvey Weinstein of rape and several other sexual offenses, but didn’t reach a verdict on charges that the disgraced movie mogul raped and assaulted Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the wife of Gov. Gavin Newsom, in 2005 while she was an early-career actress, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Eight jurors were in favor of convicting Weinstein on Siebel Newsom’s charges while four were opposed, according to the Los Angeles Times. The already high-profile trial gained prominence in California due to the First Partner’s testimony, with Weinstein’s lawyers trying to involve Newsom in the case by noting that he accepted political donations from Weinstein and that Siebel Newsom emailed Weinstein after the alleged rape for advice on how to handle fallout from Newsom’s affair during his previous marriage while he was mayor of San Francisco.
    • Siebel Newsom said in a statement: “Throughout the trial, Weinstein’s lawyers used sexism, misogyny and bullying tactics to intimidate, demean and ridicule us survivors. This trial was a stark reminder that we as a society have work to do.”
    • Newsom, who told reporters in November he would have “a lot to share” about the case after the jury concluded its deliberations, said in a statement: “I am so incredibly proud of my wife and all the brave women who came forward to share their truth and uplift countless survivors who cannot. … We must keep fighting to ensure that survivors are supported and that their voices are heard.”
  • California lawyer and former Chapman University professor John Eastman was among the small group of people — including former President Donald Trump — for whom Congress’ Jan. 6 committee referred to the U.S. Justice Department potential federal criminal charges for their role in the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The committee’s action “carries no more legal weight than a ‘referral’ from any American citizen” and “should carry a great deal less weight due to the absurdly partisan nature of the process that produced it,” Eastman said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the presumed next speaker of the U.S. House, was one of four members of Congress referred to the House ethics committee for not complying with the Jan. 6 committee’s subpoena request. (McCarthy was also the subject of an in-depth New Yorker profile published Monday.)
  • The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked the planned Wednesday expiration of a pandemic policy allowing U.S. officials to turn away most migrants at the border. It’s unclear how long the temporary ban — which followed an emergency appeal from some Republican-led states — will remain in effect, but either way it will have a sizable impact on California. During a visit to the California-Mexico border last week, Newsom said the state isn’t equipped to handle a likely surge in immigrants once the federal policy expires.

2 Will CA grow safety net programs despite budget challenges?

Ivonne Sonato-Vega and her children have breakfast their her home in Santa Rosa. Photo by Brian Frank for CalMatters
Ivonne Sonato-Vega and her children have breakfast in their home in Santa Rosa. Sonato-Vega said additional tax credits would help her care for her children. Photo by Brian Frank for CalMatters

Partly because of sizable reserves, California should be able to avoid cuts to social safety net programs next fiscal year despite the state’s projected $25 billion budget deficit, state lawmakers say. But that vow may not be good enough for anti-poverty advocates, who argue that a looming economic downturn is all the more reason to increase social spending in a state where nearly 30% of residents live in or near poverty, CalMatters’ Alejandro Lazo and Jeanne Kuang report. Among the programs they plan to push for: expanding California’s Young Child Tax Credit to include all kids in low-income households instead of only those under 6; creating an unemployment benefits program for undocumented immigrants; and opening California’s food assistance program to all low-income people, regardless of immigration status or age.

California’s budget calculations could get even trickier if the state enters a full-fledged recession. “As a practical matter, it is very hard to build a rainy day fund that’s big enough to get you through a rainy season,” said Donald Boyd, a state finance expert at New York’s University of Albany. “You need huge amounts of money to offset the effects of even a modest recession.”

3 Republicans blocked from two ethnic caucuses

Republican state Senators Brian Jones, of Santee, and Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh, of Yucaipa, discuss one of the budget bills at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on Wednesday, June 29, 2022. During an unusual night time session California lawmakers worked on a package of bills to enact the nearly $308 billion budget that includes cash payments for most taxpayers to help offset record-high gas prices. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo
Republican state Senators Brian Jones (left) and Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh discuss a budget bill at the Capitol in Sacramento on June 29, 2022. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

Republican state lawmakers are not allowed to join the California Latino Legislative Caucus, even if they’re Latino. That’s because the powerful group, along with the Asian American & Pacific Islander Caucus, explicitly bans Republicans, the Sacramento Bee reports. The policy is coming under increased scrutiny following the Nov. 8 election, which resulted in a record number of Latino state lawmakers — including four Republicans, the largest cohort in nearly 20 years.

Meanwhile, lawmakers continue to introduce bills before the legislative session recommences on Jan. 4. Here’s a look at what some of note would do:


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: A conflict between two powerful labor unions could threaten California housing legislation.

How California can respond to the Los Angeles City Council’s attempt to disenfranchise voters: State law doesn’t fully address the many ways that officials can tinker with the redistricting process — so state legislators should mandate an independent process and outline punishments for interference, argues Salomon Zavala, founder and managing attorney at Zavala Law Group.


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An elderly woman in prison is losing her memory. Why isn’t California releasing her? // The Guardian

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4 of the top 10 most expensive U.S. homes sold in 2022 are in California. // Bloomberg

Former California church members sue pastors for alleged ‘spiritual fraud.’ // Mercury News

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