California Homeless Problems

Last November the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released its 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report which found that southern California remains home to the largest homeless population in the country.

Long Beach, a city of approximately 460,000 south of Los Angeles, has the fourth highest rate of people living without shelter of any major American city. Long Beach listed 1,112 chronically homeless, along with 14,840 chronically homeless in Los Angeles city and county, the highest number in the HUD report. Long Beach also has the 10th largest population of homeless veterans of any major city, 527, compared to Los Angeles city and county’s 6,291. Statewide, the number of homeless people living in shelters and living on the streets increased by 3,895 people since 2010, according to local homeless housing and service providers.

The report also found that California has 22 percent of America’s homeless population, and that 66.7 percent of the homeless lack shelter, the highest percentage in the nation. In addition, 36 percent of America’s chronically homeless reside in California, and of these people 86.6 percent were unsheltered. Long Beach also has the ninth largest population of chronically homeless in the US as well as the fourth largest unsheltered homeless population. About 22.8 percent of the population lives in poverty, according to the Long Beach Community Action Partnership, and one in three children under the age of five live below the abysmally low federal poverty line.

The report’s definition of a chronically homeless person is someone who has gone without shelter continually for at least a year or at least four times in the past year and has a debilitating condition, such as substance abuse disorder or mental illness. It must be noted that the HUD report does not count the number of people who are being helped through programs that involve rapid re-housing, permanent housing, or those being cared for in an institution.

Immense resources are available to solve these pressing social problems, but they are monopolized by the super-rich. California by itself is home to nearly 100 billionaires.

While the California budget proposal restores none of the past cuts to human services that aid the homeless and the poor, despite a much hailed surplus, federal budget cuts to housing programs threaten to throw more people into poverty and homelessness.

Last week President Obama signed a budget bill into law that will cut $8.7 billion in food stamps for the most vulnerable layers of the population. This is part of a broader attack on social programs that benefit the poor, including the deliberate expiration of extended benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers in the US. The lack of a job, in particular, is directly linked to homelessness, starvation, and all the social misery that accompanies it.

The cost of living in Long Beach in comparison to California and the rest of the country is exorbitantly high. The median household income in the city in 2011 was $51,214 compared to the state average of $57,287. The estimated per capita income is $25,945. The cost of rent, which determines the quality of life for so many working class and poor residents in Long Beach, is also expensive. The median gross rent in 2011 was $1,064 per month. The median house or condo value in 2011 was $420,700 in Long Beach compared to $355,600 statewide.