California Can’t Account For All $24 Billion Spent On Homeless Crisis, Audit Finds

California has about 30% of the county's homeless people.
TOPSHOT - A homeless man fixes his bike outside his tent next to the 110 Freeway, during the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic in Los Angeles California on May 25, 2020. - On May 22, 2020 a federal judge issued a preliminary order requiring that homeless people living under Los Angeles freeway overpasses and underpasses, be relocated for health and safety reasons. (Photo by Apu GOMES / AFP) (Photo by APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)
APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images

California spent $24 billion on the state’s homeless crisis over the past five years, but it did not consistently track whether the enormous amount of spending was making a dent in the problem, a state audit has found.

The audit released Tuesday found California “lacks current information on the ongoing costs and outcomes of its homelessness programs.”

The state agency responsible for the issue “has not consistently tracked and evaluated the State’s efforts to prevent and end homelessness,” the audit discovered.

California has about 30% of the country’s homeless people, and the number continues to rise.

A total of 181,399 people were homeless in California at some point in 2023, up from 151,278 people in 2019. Last year’s homeless population was a 53% jump from the 118,552 people who were homeless in 2013, according to the audit.

Billions of taxpayer dollars were spent on more than 30 homeless and housing programs between 2018 and 2023, yet California could not explain why homelessness did not improve in some cities. In some areas, homelessness has become visibly worse, notably in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Sacramento.

San Francisco’s downtown has emptied out as drug addicts shoot up in broad daylight and tents line the streets. The city is restricted from removing tents from the streets unless it can prove it is providing shelter for each person.

In September, Sacramento’s top prosecutor sued the city over its homeless encampments, accusing city officials of allowing the homeless population to become a public nuisance.


“This report concludes that the state must do more to assess the cost-effectiveness of its homelessness programs,” State Auditor Grant Parks wrote in a letter to Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers.

The audit examined five state homeless programs to assess their cost-effectiveness and found that two housing-related programs were likely cost-effective. However, the audit was unable to assess the other three programs because the state failed to collect enough data.

The audit recommended that the legislature take action to require the state’s main homelessness agency to compile and publicly report the costs and results of taxpayer-funded homelessness programs.

The California Interagency Council on Homelessness, the state agency responsible for homelessness programs, responded to the state auditor’s report, saying it “generally agrees” with the recommendations and will take “appropriate measures to implement where possible.”

In the wake of the audit, California Republican leaders blasted the state’s Democratic leadership.

“This is standard Gavin Newsom – make a splashy announcement, waste a bunch of taxpayer money, and completely fail to deliver,” California Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher said.

“Californians are tired of the homeless crisis, and they’re even more tired of Gavin’s excuses. We need results – period, full stop,” Gallagher added.

Republican state Sen. Roger Niello called the audit “troubling” but criticized the audit itself for focusing heavily on shelter.

“The one issue I had with the audit was that the focus was mostly on housing and shelter issues, which is certainly important, but really very little about actual results, getting people out of homelessness, not just into shelter,” Niello said. “That’s sort of half the job, maybe not even quite half the job. And, so that was a little bit of a disappointment.”

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