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California’s homeless population rose 5.8% in 2023, while U.S. rate surged 12%

A man in black attire pushes a shopping cart full of belongings.
A homeless man walks through Jack London Square in Oakland in March 2020. | Source: Jane Tyska/Getty Images

The United States experienced a dramatic 12% increase in homelessness between 2022 and 2023 to its highest reported level as soaring rents and a decline in pandemic assistance put housing out of reach for more Americans, federal officials said this week.

About 653,000 people were homeless—the most since the country began using the yearly point-in-time survey in 2007. The total represents an increase of about 70,650 from a year earlier, according to the Housing and Urban Development Department report.

California, which accounts for 12% of the population of the United States, has 28% of its homeless people—181,399. Nearly 10,000 people in California became homeless between 2022 and 2023, according to the report.

While California has more homeless people than any other state, its 5.8% year-over-year increase was only about half the national 12% rate. New York's homelessness went up more than three times the national rate, according to HUD's report.

Still, California's issues with homelessness are plainly visible on the streets of many cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles. The state now accounts for 49% of all unsheltered people in the country (123,423 people). This is nearly eight times the number of unsheltered people in the state with the next highest number, Florida.

In California, 68% of homeless people are unsheltered. Other Western states, including Oregon, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii, all have more than half of their homeless population unsheltered.

A line of multicolored tents on a city street.
Homeless people in an encampment along Willow Street in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco in 2022. | Source: Getty Images

In New York, which has 103,000 homeless people, just 4.9% are unsheltered.

The latest estimate indicates that people becoming homeless for the first time were behind much of the increase. Family homelessness is also on the rise.

New Hampshire, New Mexico and Colorado along with New York saw the largest percentage increases in homelessness. In all, the number of people experiencing homelessness increased in 41 states and the District of Columbia, and decreased in just nine states.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge said the data underscored an "urgent need" to support proven solutions that help people quickly exit homelessness and that prevent homelessness in the first place.

California Reduces Veteran Homelessness

In five major cities—all in California—more than 70% of people experiencing
homelessness were unsheltered: San Jose (75%), Los Angeles (73%), Oakland (73%), Long Beach (72%), and Sacramento (72%).

Still, in a slight positive sign, the number of sheltered individuals statewide increased by 11% or 3,715 people.

There were 25,483 people in California who were homeless as part of a family, and about 23.5% were unsheltered. On top of that, there were 10,173 "unaccompanied youth" in California, including 1,113 in San Francisco alone.

More than two-thirds of those youths statewide were unsheltered. Nationally, the three cities with the highest rates of unsheltered youth were San Jose (86%), San Francisco (81%), and Oakland (77%).

A woman stands in front of a fence with a view of Treasure Island in the background.
Army veteran Latoya White at her home on Treasure Island in San Francisco. A third of the nation’s homeless veterans live in California, where the state has spent several billion dollars creating more housing specifically for former military service members since 9/11. | Source: Photo by Loren Elliott for CalMatters

California accounted for 30% of all veterans experiencing homelessness in the United States (10,589 veterans) and close to half of all unsheltered veterans (48% or 7,436 veterans).

But California has made significant progress in reducing veteran homelessness, with the number of homeless veterans in the state dropping by nearly 7,400 people since 2009. San Francisco had about 550 homeless vets, the study said.

Blacks, Latinos Have High Rates of Homelessness

People who identify as Black make up about 13% of the U.S. population but comprised 37% of all people experiencing homelessness. People who identify as Hispanic or Latino make up about 19% of the population but comprised about 33% of those experiencing homelessness.

Also, more than a quarter of the adults experiencing homelessness were over age 54.

After the first 2007 survey, the U.S. made steady progress for about a decade in reducing the homeless population as the government focused particularly on increasing investments to get veterans into housing. The number of homeless people dropped from about 637,000 in 2010 to about 554,000 in 2017.

The numbers ticked up to about 580,000 in the 2020 count and held relatively steady over the next two years as Congress responded to the Covid-19 pandemic with emergency rental assistance, stimulus payments, aid to states and local governments and a temporary eviction moratorium.

Jeff Olivet, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, a federal agency, said the extra assistance "held off the rise in homelessness that we are now seeing." He said numerous factors are behind the problem.

"The most significant causes are the shortage of affordable homes and the high cost of housing that have left many Americans living paycheck to paycheck and one crisis away from homelessness," Olivet said.

A man in jeans and a jacket passes a row of tents on the street.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo takes part in the 2022 point-in-time homeless census for Santa Clara County in February 2022. | Source: Getty Images

HUD said that rental housing conditions were "extraordinarily challenging" in 2022, with rents increasing at more than twice the rate of recent years. The agency noted that trend has subsided since the January 2023 count.

Such relief could show benefits when volunteers and housing officials around the country begin the next homeless count in just a few weeks.

Officials also noted that President Joe Biden's budget for this fiscal year has recommended guaranteed vouchers for low-income veterans and youth aging out of foster care, among other investments designed to reduce homelessness.

Starting in the summer of 2022, New York City's homeless shelter system has been overwhelmed by waves of international migrants who are being bused into the city from southern U.S. border states. More than 150,000 migrants have been in the city's shelters for some period of time.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams has pleaded with the federal government for aid to help defray the cost of housing migrants, which he says will run into the billions of dollars over the next few years. He has chastised the governor of Texas, for arranging to bus migrants out of that state to New York. Adams, a Democrat, has also asked for legal and bureaucratic changes that would allow migrants to get work permits more easily.

HUD did not get data that enabled it to separate out the specific impact of migrants and asylum seekers on homelessness, but some communities indicated it did affect their increase.

The Biden administration has provided more than $1 billion in grant funding to cities and states to fund critical needs for migrants. The administration is also identifying potential federal land and buildings that can be made available for shelter and other services for migrants, said a senior HUD official not authorized to publicly discuss the report.

HUD also sought to highlight improvements and noted that some communities bucked the national trend.

Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the surrounding region, for example, saw a 49% drop from the 2022 count to this year's. Chattanooga increased efforts to more rapidly connect people to permanent housing and boosted efforts to prevent people from becoming homeless.

Other communities highlighted for a drop were Dallas, which experienced a 3.8% decrease, and Newark and Essex County, New Jersey, which saw a 16.7% drop. Houston has closed numerous homeless encampments across the city and saw a 17% reduction in unsheltered homelessness. San Jose and Tucson, Arizona, were also cited for improvements.