There is no doubt that California is facing a harsh reality when it comes to homelessness – from the seemingly more visible presence of unsheltered individuals in urban cores and on city sidewalks – to the less obvious scenarios, such as a single mother of two spending a night sleeping in the family car or a hidden encampment. What we do know is that we are decades deep into this crisis, and we still lack an effective statewide and national strategy to bring an end homelessness.
According to the most recent publicly available data on homelessness by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), California has the largest homeless population in the country with approximately 130,000 people living in shelters or on the street. That comprises 24% of the country’s homeless population, easily the highest in the nation. With nearly 53,000 reported homeless individuals, Los Angeles County alone contains 10% of the national homeless population. What is poorly understood, however, is how homelessness numbers are calculated and why it is important to regard them as estimates when attempting to address intervention strategies on homelessness and affordable housing, in general.