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Homelessness Policy in California


Most of the homeless in America are concentrated in large cities. There are several cities in which the number of homeless people is so big that the situation with the growth of homelessness in them is called an epidemic. First of all, these are Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and San Francisco (League of California Cities, 2020). The crisis is intensifying, and some argue that in the future the situation will only get worse. According to official statistics, there are 560,000 homeless people in the United States, that is, almost 2% of the population (League of California Cities, 2020). More than a quarter of them are located in prosperous California (League of California Cities, 2020). The number of people without a place to live continues to grow, and the measures taken do not bring tangible results to improve the situation.

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Of the five largest cities in with the highest number of homeless people, four are located in California. One of them is San Diego; in this city, the law prohibits citizens from “bothering/touching any person” who sleeps along the sidewalk. Moreover, in San Diego, it is illegal to sleep in tents near the ocean and to use a parked vehicle as a home “either overnight or for the day” (Goodison et al., 2020). It should be noted that, according to data for 2016-2017, the “number of homeless people in the country decreased by 3%. However, in California, the situation is the opposite – their numbers grew by 3%” (League of California Cities, 2020, p. 4). At the same time, there are many organizations operating in the country that are trying to rectify the situation.

CalWORKs California Social Assistance Program provides families of two children and one parent with $714 monthly assistance. However, such a meager amount of benefits cannot be viewed as tangible help to the homeless. The problem is further aggravated by the lack of proper compassion for the homeless in society. Many claim that some homeless people are not victims of circumstances, but idlers or those who prefer homelessness because they want to stay outside politics and ideologies. The latter often refer to themselves as ‘gutter punks’ or ‘urban survivalists’ (Goodison et al., 2020). Wong (2016) describes how the situation becomes worse for homeless people in San Francisco: “Sidewalk campgrounds have become a common sight in San Francisco, where homelessness is being tackled with a new law funded by urban billionaires” (para. 1-5). In some streets, one can see up to 30-40 tents standing in a row.

The attitude towards the homeless in the state can be clearly seen, for example, based on the fact that at the referendum in 2016 the residents of the city were offered a draft law called Proposition Q. The authorities propose to prohibit tent camps: “they will be demolished, and the property of the homeless will be destroyed” (Knight, 2017, para. 5). The police’ responsibility will be to “issue a 24-hour demolition warning to those living in tents, as well as provide shelter for all who were left without a roof over their heads” (Knight, 2017, para. 5-6). Opponents of Proposition Q are confident that such an initiative by the authorities will lead to even greater criminalization of the homeless (Goodison et al., 2020). The proposed measure does not lead to increase in the number of housing for homeless. They move from street or district to another, hoping to acquire housing that does not exist, since the city sorely lacks shelters.

While wealthy lobbyists have donated great sums of money to campaigning for the above-described bill, socially responsible companies are taking their own steps to reduce homelessness. Apple has committed $400 million to tackle California’s housing crisis. Apple’s funding will be used to develop new affordable housing projects and to help middle-income and low-income homebuyers. The first four social housing projects have begun in partnership with the Silicon Valley Housing Trust (USC Equity Research Institute, 2020). At the same time, in 2019, the state of California allocated $1 billion to fight homelessness (USC Equity Research Institute, 2020). This is the largest spending on homelessness in the state’s history, but California’s homelessness rate continues to rise.

In this context, the need to use the concept of justice in the distribution of benefits, as well as mechanisms of public-private partnership to solve the problem of homelessness, is obvious, based on the theory of welferism, which is popular today. This theory argues that well-being is necessary for all people, regardless of their merit (Wagner & Gilman, 2015). Thus, age, race, class, color, culture, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, religion, political ideology, immigration status, sex and life practices should not be the factors influencing the attitude to homeless.

Meanwhile, the image of a homeless person in the United States is filled with negative stereotypes. There are different points of view about the homeless and the policies towards them. Legislative and behavioral approaches criticize the homeless for their “antisocial” appearance and behavior. Three other perspectives – structural, advocacy, and political – suggest that they be viewed as citizens with a right to be in the public space, and link their plight to anti-poor economic and social policies (Wagner & Gilman, 2015). During COVID-19 crisis, homeless people became the most humiliated and discriminated group, and this should not be repeated.

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Attitudes toward homelessness in public places, such as those observed in California, are expressed in attempts by city officials and large property owners to restrict this stay. This attitude can be regarded as part of a general change in the management of public space in the interests of business and government. The desire of the latter to take control of public space means their striving to monopolize the right to dispose of a common resource, which is a public space open and accessible to all.


However, the persecution of the homeless indicates that the use of public space for private interests is condemned if this is done by representatives of the so-called lower social classes of society. The appearance and public behavior of the homeless, unacceptable by middle class morals, leads to confusion in the public consciousness and opinion about homelessness as people with aggressive antisocial and criminal behavior, and causes the use of negative sanctions against the homeless (Wagner & Gilman, 2015). The spread of ideas about the connection between the homeless and the world of crime prevents public opinion from reaction to crimes committed against the homeless, violations of their civil rights. Since homeless people are largely deprived of their personal or private space, limiting their ability to take advantage of public space leads to their further desocialization and marginalization.

A brief study and an attempt to analyze the problem of homelessness in California suggests that the state currently lacks a coherent and effective policy on this issue, while the problem continues to worsen. In this regard, it seems necessary to conduct public discussions with the participation of all stakeholders, including representatives of homeless communities, in order to develop solutions based on stakeholder management. In this context, public-private partnership can become both an effective basis for the development and a mechanism for the implementation of such decisions.


Goodison, S., Barnum, J., Vermeer, M., Woods, D., Sitar, I., Jackson, B. (2020). The law enforcement response to homelessness. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

Knight, H. (2017). Homeless camp-clearing Proposition Q beginning to have an impact. San Francisco Chronicle. Web.

League of California Cities (2020). Homelessness task force report: Tools and resources for cities and counties. Durham, UK: Institute for Local Government.

USC Equity Research Institute (2020). Toward a greater Los Angeles. Committee for Greater LA, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

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Wagner, D., & Gilman, J. (2015). Confronting homelessness: Poverty, politics, and the failure of social policy. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Wong, J. C. (2016). Wealthy San Francisco tech investors bankroll bid to ban homeless camps. The Guardian. Web.

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