An ongoing discussion across California is focused on homelessness. A primary element of this discussion involves how and why the California homeless population has been on an upward trajectory. Indeed, many Californians wonder why the state’s homeless population has exploded.

Has the California Homeless Population Really Exploded?

When presented with the question “has the California homeless population exploded, the answer simply is “yes.” The state of homelessness in California between 2016 and 2017 underscores that this population indeed has exploded – dramatically exploded.

Between 2016 and 2017, the homeless population rocked up to 134,000. The number of homeless people in the state of California increased 14 percent during this 12-month time period.

A fair way of determining if this increase represents an explosion is to contrast the rate in California with the rest of the nation. Again, the homeless population in California increased by 14 percent between 2016 and 2017. The homeless population across the United States increased 1 percent between 2016 and 2017.

Another factor needs to be taken into consideration. The California homeless rate zoomed up 14 percent. The national rate, while at 1 percent, was a 13 percent drop from the prior year.

So, yes, particularly when the homeless population in California is contrasted with the rest of the country, the rate in the Golden State has exploded – arguably a nuclear explosion.

The California Rent Explosion

One of the significant reasons why the California homeless population has increased dramatically in recent years is the rent explosion that has occurred nearly everywhere in the state.  Since the Great Recession of 2008 drew to an end, rents across the state have reached record levels.

The Disappearance of Lower End Hotels, Motels, and Tenements

A dozen years ago, in the vast majority of California cities, there were old hotels and motels as well as tenements. While not the most idyllic housing option, these types of buildings did provide at last passable housing for a considerable number of people who did not otherwise have housing options.

Of course, it is true that tenants at times were abused in these types of housing situations by a landlord, but not always. In those situations in which these lower-end properties were maintained at least to a minimum degree, these options were better than life on the streets.

Across California, these types of housing options have been torn to the ground. Time and again, they’ve been replaced by high-dollar condos and other types of developments. In much of California, the destruction of these properties has been a major part of regentrification across the state.

Affordable Housing Crisis Rips Across the State

The affordable housing stock more generally is minimal to non-existent in many parts of the state. This category of housing for the purposes of this article is above that of bottom end tenements and motels. It is residential stock, including new construction, that is affordable to working families and others with more limited income.

As the affordable housing stock has diminished across the state, an ever-increasing number of people have been driven to the streets, including to homeless encampments. There is no relief in sight when it comes to the availability of affordable housing in major California cities.

Drop in Public Assistance

Particularly in the past year, in many locations around the state, there has been a drop in the amount of money available to a good number of people for housing and other types of assistance. The decrease in public assistance is also contributing to the California homeless explosion.

There is a good amount of uncertainty as to what is going to happen in regard to public assistance for housing and other purposes in the immediate future. The general consensus is that public assistance funds will continue to tighten and even decreasing going forward. 

High Percentage of People Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Despite the perceived economic recovery, a considerable percentage – indeed, a significant majority – of the California population lives paycheck to paycheck. Many of these individuals and families are a paycheck or two from ending up facing homelessness.

For example, if a family faces a medical emergency, the medical bills can end up jeopardizing a family’s ability to keep a roof over its head. If a breadwinner loses a job, the same threat to housing can occur.


In a good number of cases, an individual or family faces multiple issues that contribute to homelessness. People try to cope with the challenges the face. However, oftentimes these efforts prove futile and individuals and families end up living on the streets of California.


Emily Kil

Co-Owner of Eco Bear Biohazard Cleaning Company

Together with her husband, Emily Kil is co-owner of Eco Bear, a leading biohazard remediation company in Southern California. An experienced entrepreneur, Emily assisted in founding Eco Bear as a means of combining her business experience with her desire to provide assistance to people facing challenging circumstances. Emily regularly writes about her first-hand experiences providing services like biohazard cleanup, suicide cleanup, crime scene cleanup, unattended death cleanup, and other types of difficult remediations in homes and businesses.