Tents line up against a fence at a homeless encampment near Highway 180 in west Fresno on Feb. 11, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela for CalMatters

By Ben Christopher | CALMatters Reporter

(CALMATTERS) – In 2021, state lawmakers made a request: The newly convened California Interagency Council on Homelessness should put together a “comprehensive view of the homelessness response system.”

In short, the legislators said: We’d like to know how much the state is spending to address its homelessness crisis, where the money is going and what we’re getting for it.

At a hearing Wednesday, they finally got their answer.

Sort of.

In what might be the first statistical birds-eye view of the state’s many-tentacled efforts to combat homelessness, the council’s report surveys all the Californians who received state-funded services directed at homelessness between 2018 and 2021. During those three years, the state spent nearly $10 billion.

The good news: 

  • The state provided services to more than 571,000 people, with the number of people served growing each year;
  • The number of shelter beds grew by roughly 17,000.
  • The money also helped build, or keep online, nearly 60,000 affordable housing units. 

The bad news:

  • The number of unsheltered Californians continues to swell;
  • Racial disparities among the state’s unsheltered population remain as stark as ever;
  • Of those who did make use of state-funded services, a majority did not move into a permanent home, and 17% ended exiting a program back into homelessness.

What the report did not address is how the state can spend its money more effectively. But it’s likely to provide fodder both for those who argue that the state needs to be supercharging its spending on homelessness, and for those who argue doing so would be throwing good money after bad.

  • Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, an Oakland Democrat: “We’ve sent people to the moon. We can solve homelessness in California.”