A tent encampment by the West Oakland BART station. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters)


California’s most vexing issue is also its most shameful: the large and rising number of residents who lack a safe place to call home. In a state with vast amounts of wealth, more than 150,000 of its residents sleep in shelters, cars, or on the street.

The United Nations compared the tent encampments of San Francisco to the slums of New Delhi and Mexico City. Nearly 5,000 people live in the half square mile of Los Angeles’ Skid Row. And while the problem is most acute in California’s urban centers, homelessness is now a common fixture in many of the state’s suburbs and rural towns. State and local officials have pledged billions in recent years to help, but voters remain frustrated by a lack of visible progress.

President Donald Trump has wielded the state’s homelessness woes as a political cudgel, excoriating Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state’s progressive policies for allowing the country’s “best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings” to be blockaded by people without homes. In a Christmas Day tweet, Trump repeated his threats of federal intervention if the state fails to fix the problem.

Here’s what you need to know about California’s homelessness crisis — including possible solutions.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Matt Levin


Jackie Botts, CalMatters