What happened when California tried to fix its homelessness crisis as the pandemic arrived

December 31, 2020

Before the coronavirus even reached the US, California was already in the midst of a public health crisis.

By March 2020, the Golden State’s homeless population made up more than a quarter of unhoused people in America. Nearly three-quarters of the more than 150,000 homeless people in the state were living unsheltered, oftentimes hard on the streets in encampments that seemed to pop up in cities from north to south. 

So when Covid-19 arrived in the spring and the governor, Gavin Newsom, shut California down to curb its spread, the two public health crises of homelessness and coronavirus collided head-on. How do you shelter-in-place if you don’t have shelter? How do you socially distance if you live shoulder-to-shoulder in a homeless camp? How do you wash your hands with no bathroom?