Jan 4, 2024 - News

California tops nation in percentage of unsheltered homelessness

Estimated homelessness rate, January 2023
Data: HUD; Map: Alice Feng/Axios

California had the highest percentage of homeless people living without shelter (68%) in the nation last year, per a recently released federal report.

Details: The annual report, from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), attempts to estimate the number of people experiencing homelessness on a single night — in this case, in late January 2023 — to offer a snapshot useful to policymakers, advocates, researchers and more.

By the numbers: On that night, more than 180,000 people were experiencing homelessness in California, a homelessness rate of 46.5 per 10,000 people, per HUD.

  • Meanwhile, California accounts for 28% of all people experiencing homelessness in the country, and accounts for nearly half of all unsheltered people in the U.S., according to the report.
  • Unsheltered homelessness is defined as those in places not meant for human habitation, as opposed to emergency shelters, transitional housing or safe haven programs.
  • The state also leads in youth homelessness, accounting for 20% of unaccompanied youth in the country.

Zoom in: San Francisco had the fourth-highest number (1,113) of unaccompanied youth among major cities and the second-highest percentage of unsheltered unaccompanied youth (81%), according to the report.

The big picture: U.S. homelessness reached a record high in 2023, Axios' April Rubin reports, with about 653,100 people experiencing homelessness.

  • Homelessness increased by about 12% nationwide since last year, per HUD's report.
  • The 2023 figure "is the highest number of people reported as experiencing homelessness on a single night since reporting began in 2007," per HUD.

Of note: As the report points out, many pandemic-era social safety net programs — such as income protections and eviction moratoria — expired throughout the year.

  • Meanwhile, shelters largely returned to full capacity after capping admittance during the pandemic.
  • Both factors complicate comparing 2023's numbers with those from pandemic years, the report warns — another example of the pandemic muddying data collection and analysis efforts.

Between the lines: Early results released last month from a guaranteed basic income pilot in San Francisco and Los Angeles showed a reduction in homelessness among participants in both cities.

  • Program participants, who receive $750 a month for a year, were less likely to remain unsheltered and closer to being able to meet their basic needs, compared to those without access to guaranteed basic income, according to the interim report by the University of Southern California's school of social work.

What to watch: San Francisco is in an ongoing legal dispute around homelessness and the clearing of encampments.

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