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California Homelessness: $24 Billion Spent, Little to Show for It
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By Associated Press
Published 2 months ago on
April 9, 2024

A tarp covers a portion of a homeless person's tent on a bridge overlooking the 101 Freeway in Los Angeles, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. (AP File)

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SACRAMENTO — California spent $24 billion to tackle homelessness over the past five years but didn’t consistently track whether the huge outlay of public money improved the situation, according to a 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 homeless people in the U.S.

$24 Billion Spent, Homelessness Still a Big Problem

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.

Among other things, the report found that the California Interagency Council on Homelessness, which is responsible for coordinating agencies and allocating resources for homelessness programs, stopped tracking spending on programs and whether programs were working in 2021. It also failed to collect and evaluate outcome data for these programs due to the lack of a consistent method, the audit found.

Some data regarding the number of program participants and bed inventory in the state system might not be accurate or reliable, the audit found.

Tracking Agency Only Filed One Report

The council, which lawmakers created in 2017 to help deal with the state’s homelessness problem, 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.

Democratic state Sen. Dave Cortese, who requested the audit last year after touring a large homeless encampment in San Jose, said the audit depicts “a data desert” when it comes to homelessness. The biggest issue is the lack of transparency at every level, he said.

“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.

Troubling Lack of Accountability

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.”

California funds more than 30 programs to tackle homelessness. The audit assessed five initiatives and found that only two of them — one that converts hotel and motel rooms into housing and one that provides housing-related support — are “likely cost-effective.”

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.

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