Homelessness in California has reached a crisis level, with thousands of people living on sidewalks, sleeping on park benches, and lining up for increasingly scarce beds in shelters. People who experience homelessness have shorter life expectancies, higher rates of depression, and increased chances of developing chemical dependencies, so addressing the issue of homelessness is critical.
The term homeless refers both to people who go through brief periods without shelter and those who live full-time in shelters, encampments, cars, or on the streets. In California, 64% of people experiencing homelessness do so on a temporary basis, while 36% face chronic homelessness for a year or more. Regardless of whether you are experiencing short- or long-term homelessness, at risk of becoming homeless in the future, or trying to help a loved one who is homeless, these resources offer vital guidance and support.
Statistics on Homelessness in California
The number of people who are homeless in the United States has grown rapidly over several decades, and California has experienced some of the most dramatic increases. Statistics show that the likelihood of a person becoming homeless differs based on where they live:
- Around 30% of all people experiencing homelessness in the United States live in California, a number that has steadily increased in recent years.
- Between 2020 and 2022, the overall homeless population in California increased by 6%.
- Approximately 70% of the unsheltered homeless population in California lives in the Los Angeles and South Coast region or San Francisco Bay area.
- According to recent reports, 67% of people who are homeless in California are unsheltered, meaning that they reside in places like sidewalks or cars rather than emergency shelters.
While many people hoped that homelessness would decrease during the COVID-19 pandemic, the rates have instead continued to increase, reflecting a deep-rooted problem that government officials have struggled to fully address.
What Has Caused California’s Homeless Population to Increase?
While it’s impossible to tie the rise of homelessness in California to any one cause, there are several factors that have exacerbated the problem. They include:
- High housing costs: California cities, including San Francisco and San Jose, have the highest housing costs in the United States.
- Lack of low-income housing: Local governments have only approved permits to construct around 20% of the necessary low-income housing in the state.
- Ineffective coordination and tracking: Different agencies addressing homelessness fail to work together to combat the problem, and there is no effective tracking of funding and outcomes to determine which agencies are most effectively addressing homelessness.
- Mental health and addiction: People with a history of mental illness are more likely to become homeless, and around 25% of all homeless adults in Los Angeles County had severe mental illnesses in 2020.
Any one of these factors in isolation could contribute to an increased rate of homelessness. When they’re combined, the result is a devastating number of people who don’t have stable housing.
Resources on California Housing and Homelessness Programs
It can be difficult to know where to turn when you find yourself without a place to live, and these programs can help with financial assistance and finding a place to live:
- Housing and Disability Advocacy Program: This program assists people with disabilities with housing support and the process of claiming their disability benefits.
- Bringing Families Home Program: Families who are involved with the child welfare system and who are also experiencing homelessness can seek support with utility payments, shelter placements, and rental assistance.
- CalWORKs Homeless Assistance: This public assistance program offers temporary or permanent housing support to eligible families with children who have limited income and are experiencing homelessness.
- Project Roomkey: This program was established in 2020 and provides temporary housing and quarantine space for individuals who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or who have a high risk of medical complications.
- Home Safe Program: Individuals who are Adult Protective Services clients and are at risk of or experiencing homelessness may qualify for support in the form of financial assistance and eviction prevention.
California Food Banks and Assistance Programs
Most people who are homeless also have limited access to nutritious food. There are several organizations in California that assist people who are experiencing food insecurity, including:
- California Association of Food Banks: This nonprofit organization connects with food banks throughout California and ensures that they have adequate supplies and resources.
- Feeding America: If you’re experiencing homelessness or food insecurity, you can use this site to search for a food bank in your local area.
- The Emergency Food Assistance Program: The state government regularly updates this list of food banks for each county in California.
- SupplyBank.org: Parents who are struggling to purchase adequate diapers for their children can locate diaper banks in the state through this site.
Foster Youth Help
Studies have shown that approximately 25% of children who age out of foster care experience homelessness within four years of leaving the system. These organizations work to support youth who are or who have been in foster care:
- United Friends of the Children: This Los Angeles-based organization assists current and former foster youth through housing programs and advocacy.
- iFoster.org: Foster youth and adults seeking to support foster youth can access free resources to ensure that children in the foster care system have adequate food, housing, and education.
- California Office of the Foster Care Ombudsperson: This group provides resources for children in foster care, including a list of rights and an online form to submit a complaint when those rights are violated.
- California Chafee Grant for Foster Youth: California students who are in foster care may be eligible for this grant, which awards up to $5,000 for college or vocational training.
Resources for California Veterans that are Homeless
As of 2022, more than 10,000 veterans in California were experiencing homelessness, a number that is significantly larger than any other state in the country. Veterans who are struggling to find affordable or stable housing can reach out to these organizations:
- HUD-VASH: The HUD-VASH program is a collaboration between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs Supported Housing, and it helps homeless veterans establish permanent housing.
- Health Care for Homeless Veterans: This program works to connect homeless veterans to care providers and to assist them with issues like homelessness.
- National Call Center for Homeless Veterans: Veterans who are currently experiencing homelessness or who fear that they may be at risk of homelessness can contact a counselor and learn about homeless programs for veterans.
California Jobs and Training Resources
One of the key steps to avoiding and escaping homelessness is finding secure employment. If you’re currently unemployed, these programs can help you receive training or look for new opportunities:
- America’s Job Center of California (AJCC): The AJCC helps job seekers obtain training and find job openings.
- CalJOBS: This site includes an extensive database of job opportunities, lists of training and education programs, and options for financial assistance.
- Youth Employment Opportunity Program (YEOP): At-risk youth who are between 15 and 25 years of age can receive specialized services, including education and career coaching, to ensure they meet their academic and professional goals.
- Experience Unlimited Job Clubs: Experience Unlimited is a network of career centers and self-help organizations for people who are currently looking for jobs.
California Homeless Services
Many communities in California have dedicated services dedicated to eradicating homelessness. These are some of the most prominent groups:
- The Non-Profit Association of Northern California (NPH): The NPH connects people with housing difficulties to legal assistance and searchable lists of affordable housing options.
- National Housing Law Project (NHLP): Based in San Francisco, the NHLP advocates for housing justice and litigates cases related to housing discrimination.
- Committee on the Shelterless (COTS): This organization helps people find temporary and permanent housing and also operates several shelters, a drop-in health clinic, and a shower trailer in the Petaluma area.
- Coalition on Homelessness: The coalition works to reduce rates of homelessness in San Francisco and throughout California.
- Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations (CCWRO): If you are receiving or believe you’re eligible for public assistance, the CCWRO provides consultation and information about multiple benefits programs, including disability and food stamps.
California Mental Health Services & Hotlines
Mental health is a common risk factor for people who experience homelessness, and having access to crisis lines and service providers is potentially life-saving. If you need to connect with a mental health counselor or are experiencing a mental health emergency, reach out to these crisis lines in California:
- CA Youth Crisis Line: Youth between the ages of 12 and 24 can reach a trained counselor at any time.
- CalHOPE: You can call or chat with CalHOPE for support when you are struggling or feeling anxious or depressed.
- California Parent and Youth Helpline: This helpline was established to support parents and children through the challenges of COVID-19.
- Veterans Crisis Line: This helpline is designed to offer 24-hour support to veterans and the people close to them.