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California Invests Billions in Homelessness Without Monitoring Effectiveness

California spent billions on homelessness (Credits: Los Angeles Times)

A state audit released on Tuesday revealed that California has failed to adequately monitor the outcomes of its substantial spending on homelessness programs. The audit, conducted by the California State Auditor’s Office, found deficiencies in tracking spending and evaluating the effectiveness of programs intended to address the homelessness crisis.

The audit highlighted the lack of consistent tracking of spending and outcomes by the California Interagency Council on Homelessness, established in 2016 to oversee the implementation of homelessness programs. This deficiency in data collection means that policymakers lack essential information to understand the ongoing costs and outcomes of homelessness programs.

Despite California allocating $20 billion over the past five years to tackle homelessness, the number of people living unsheltered has continued to rise, growing by 6% in 2023 alone.

California fails to track its homelessness spending (Credits: CalMatters)

The audit identified shortcomings in evaluating the success of state-funded homelessness programs and recommended implementing annual reporting of spending plans and outcomes, along with establishing a “scorecard” to track program success.

While some programs, such as Project Homekey and the CalWORKs Housing Support Program, were found to be likely cost-effective, others lacked sufficient data for evaluation. Most individuals participating in state programs were placed into interim housing, such as shelters, rather than permanent housing, based on available data.

California spent billions to combat homelessness without tracking (Credits: CBS Austin)

In response to the audit, the governor’s office referred to progress made since enacting a law in 2021 requiring entities receiving state homeless funds to collect data. However, the audit underscored the need for greater transparency and data reporting to improve accountability and effectiveness in addressing homelessness.

The audit also examined spending by the cities of San José and San Diego, revealing a lack of evaluation of the effectiveness of their homelessness programs despite funding allocations.

Lawmakers, including State Sen. Dave Cortese and Assemblymember Gregg Hart, expressed the need for stricter reporting on homelessness spending and emphasized the importance of continuing to invest in addressing homelessness while also auditing the effectiveness of efforts.

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