How effective are California's homelessness programs? Audit finds state hasn't been keeping track (2024)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California spent $24 billion to tackle homelessness over the past five years but didn’t consistently track whether the huge outlay of public money actually improved the situation, according to state audit released Tuesday.

With makeshift tents lining the streets and disrupting businesses in cities and towns throughout California, homelessness has become one of the most frustrating and seemingly intractable issues in the country’s most populous state. An estimated 171,000 people are homeless in California, which amounts to roughly 30% of all of the homeless people in the U.S.

Despite the roughly billions of dollars spent on more than 30 homeless and housing programs during the 2018-2023 fiscal years, California doesn’t have reliable data needed to fully understand why the problem didn’t improve in many cities, according to state auditor’s report.

“This report concludes that the state must do more to assess the cost-effectiveness of its homelessness programs,” State Auditor Grant Parks wrote in a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers.

The audit analyzed five programs that received a combined $13.7 billion in funding. It determined that only two of them are “likely cost-effective,” including one that converts hotel and motel rooms into housing and another that provides housing assistance to prevent families from becoming homeless.


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Under the $3.6-billion program that converts hotel and motel rooms, which is a linchpin in Newsom’s homelessness plan, the average cost of a room is at least 2.5 times cheaper than building a new home, the audit found. The housing assistance program, which has received $760 million over the past five years, gives an average of $12,000 to $22,000, depending on which county, to help a low-income family stay in their home. That’s a fraction of the roughly $50,000 the state spends on a person once they become homeless.

The remaining three programs, which have received a total of $9.4 billion since 2020, couldn’t be evaluated due to a lack of data.

Democratic state Sen. Dave Cortese, who requested the audit last year after touring a large homeless encampment in San Jose, said the report depicts “a data desert” and shows an unsettling lack of transparency at every level.

“Despite (the auditor office’s) professionalism and best efforts, they are at this time unable to ... draw conclusions about things like whether or not overhead is appropriate or too high,” Cortese said, though he stopped short of calling for a halt to future spending on the homelessness issue.

Republican state Sen. Roger Niello said the lack of accountability is troubling.

“California is facing a concerning paradox: despite an exorbitant amount of dollars spent, the state’s homeless population is not slowing down,” Niello said in a statement. “These audit results are a wake-up call for a shift toward solutions that prioritize self-sufficiency and cost effectiveness.”

Newsom has made tackling homelessness a top priority, and the growing crisis is sure to dog him should he ever set his sights on a national elected office. He has pushed for laws that make it easier to force people with behavioral health issues into treatment, and he campaigned aggressively for a proposition that voters passed in March that imposes strict requirements on counties to spend on housing and drug treatment programs to help tackle the state’s homelessness crisis.

Among other things, the audit found that the California Interagency Council on Homelessness, which oversees the implementation of the homelessness programs, hasn’t tracked spending or whether programs were working since June 2021. The council has no consistent method to collect outcome data for these programs, and it doesn’t verify the accuracy of the data submitted by municipalities, the audit found.

Furthermore, the state database includes deleted records and test entries, and some data on the number of program participants might be overstated, the audit found.

The council, which lawmakers created in 2017 to help deal with the homelessness crisis, has only reported on homelessness spending once, according to the audit. Without reliable and recent data on its spending, “the state will continue to lack complete and timely information about the ongoing costs and associated outcomes of its homelessness programs,” the report says.

In a written response to the auditor’s office, Meghan Marshall, who heads the council, agreed with the audit’s findings and vowed to implement its recommendations “where possible.” But she also noted that the council has limited resources to put toward collecting data and that lawmakers had only required it to complete a one-time assessment.

In response to questions from The Associated Press, the council said local governments also need to step up.

“The State Auditor’s findings highlight the significant progress made in recent years to address homelessness at the state level, including the completion of a statewide assessment of homelessness programs. But it also underscores a need to continue to hold local governments accountable, who are primarily responsible for implementing these programs and collecting data on outcomes that the state can use to evaluate program effectiveness,” the statement reads.

The state auditor also reviewed homelessness spending in two major cities, San Jose and San Diego, and found that both failed to effectively track revenue and spending due to a lack of spending plans.

How effective are California's homelessness programs? Audit finds state hasn't been keeping track (2024)


How effective are California's homelessness programs? Audit finds state hasn't been keeping track? ›

Audit finds state hasn't been keeping track. SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A state audit has found that California spent $24 billion to tackle homelessness over the past five years but didn't consistently track whether the spending actually helped alleviate the problem.

What's the worst state for homeless people? ›

California continues to lead the nation in homelessness, with US data showing the state has the highest rate of unhoused people living outside in a worsening humanitarian crisis. The US has empty buildings it could use to tackle homelessness. Why is it selling them off?

How many people in the state of California find themselves homeless? ›

An estimated 171,000 people are homeless in California, which amounts to roughly 30 percent of all of the homeless people in the U.S. Despite the roughly $24 billion spent on homeless and housing programs during the 2018-2023 fiscal years, the problem didn't improve in many cities, according to state auditor's report.

What states have the best homeless programs? ›

Key findings: Colorado ranked the top state in the nation for housing assistance from 2018 to 2019. Connecticut saw a 23.6% decline in homelessness from 2018 to 2019. In 2019, it was estimated that nearly 568,000 were experiencing homelessness.

What state has the highest homeless population per capita? ›

New York and Vermont have the nation's highest homelessness rates among US states.
StateHomeless people per 10,000
New York52.7 52.7 52.7
Vermont50.9 50.9 50.9
Oregon47.6 47.6 47.6
California46.6 46.6 46.6
16 more rows

What states have no homeless? ›

Wyoming, North Dakota and Mississippi have the smallest homeless populations.

What state has the fewest homeless? ›

Which state has the lowest homeless population? The state with the lowest homeless population in the U.S is North Dakota, which only has 610 homeless people. However, when accounting for population the state of Mississippi has the lowest rate of homelessness with only 4.1 homeless individuals for every 10,000 people.

What is the root cause of homelessness in California? ›

California is home for most of its homeless population. The most frequently reported reason for loss of housing was reduction of income due to unemployment or a decrease in work hours.

What town in California has the most homeless? ›

(KMPH) — Personal finance company Wallet Hub found Fresno, California, has the highest homeless rate in the nation. Fresno leaders say the ranking isn't at all surprising. "It just confirms what we've seen on the streets for years," said Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias.

What is causing the homelessness in California? ›

About a third of California's 40 million people live in poverty or near-poverty, United Ways of California recently reported. Sudden illness, an accident, a layoff or an unexpected car repair bill can easily lead to unpaid rent, eviction and a lack of shelter.

What is the most effective program for homelessness? ›

Housing-Based Solutions

Proven housing-based policies include: Federal housing assistance: Federal housing programs are one of the most successful housing-based solutions to reduce homelessness.

What city in the US has the highest homeless problem? ›

New York City

Where is the best place to go if you are homeless? ›

A good place to start is your County Department of Human or Social Services, a nearby church, social service non-profit, the library, or a food pantry.

What is the homeless capital of the world? ›

Today, Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, has the highest number of homeless people in the world— around 4.5 million. If we talk about homelessness in US cities (See: 25 US Cities with the Highest Homeless Population Per Capita), Eugene tops the list with 432 homeless people per 100,000 residents.

What are the top 5 homeless states? ›

By state
Largest Overall Homeless PopulationsHighest Rates of Homelessness per 100,000 residents
New York103,200Vermont
1 more row
Jan 25, 2024

How many homeless are in PA? ›

Pennsylvania is among nine states with big declines in the number of people experiencing homelessness over the last three years, per a new federal report. Driving the news: The state's homelessness rate dropped to 9.7 per 10,000 people overall in 2023, down from 10.3 per 10,000 people in 2019.

When was homelessness at its highest? ›

U.S. homelessness reached a record high in 2023, according to data the federal government released Friday. The big picture: Homelessness increased by about 12% nationwide since last year, and it rose across all household types, the Department of Housing and Urban Development said in a new report.


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