Audit Finds California Not Tracking Homelessness Program Results

California spends billions of dollars every year to tackle homelessness, yet the state doesn’t consistently track if the programs it implements are effective.

A new state audit that was released this week found that the state spent $24 billion on homelessness programs in the past five years. At the same time, the report found that California didn’t have a consistent tracking system in place that would help them determine whether the programs were effective.

Homelessness has become a significant problem in many cities throughout California in recent years. Some cities are now home to “tent cities,” with more than 171,000 people without a home throughout the state. That represents about 30% of all homeless people in the United States.

In the 2018 through 2023 fiscal years, California spent $24 billion on 30 different homeless and housing programs. But, the report from the state auditor found California doesn’t have reliable enough data that would be needed to completely understand why homelessness hasn’t improved in many of the state’s cities.

In a letter sent to Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, State Auditor Grant Parks wrote:

“This report concludes that the state must do more to assess the cost-effectiveness of its homelessness programs.”

The audit honed in on five programs the state created to attack homelessness. Those programs received $13.7 billion combined in funding.

Only two of those programs were determined to be “likely cost-effective,” according to the report. One of those converts motel and hotel rooms into housing for people who need it. Another gives housing assistance so families can avoid becoming homeless.

The report found that converting the motel and hotel rooms costs, on average, at least 2.5 times less than building an entirely new home. The housing assistance program gives low-income families between $12,000 and $22,000 so they can remain in their homes.

That’s a small fraction of the average $50,000 that California spends on a single individual once they become homeless.

The other three programs the audit analyzed couldn’t be properly evaluated because there wasn’t enough data. Those programs have received $9.4 billion in state funding since 2020.

This audit was requested last year by Democratic state Senator Dave Cortese after he toured a large encampment of homeless people in San Jose. He said that the report shows “a data desert” and a lack of transparency that’s unsettling at every level.

He said following the report’s release:

“Despite (the auditor’s 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.”

Roger Niello, a Republican state senator, agreed, saying:

“California is facing a concerning paradox: despite an exorbitant amount of dollars spent, the state’s homeless population is not slowing down. These audit results are a wake-up call for a shift toward solutions that prioritize self-sufficiency and cost effectiveness.”