People Experiencing Homelessness

Homelessness in California is a continuing and growing crisis. Individuals and families experiencing homelessness are without permanent housing largely due to a lack of affordable housing. Homelessness is often compounded by a lack of job training and supportive services to treat mental illness, substance abuse, or domestic violence.


Special needs are those associated with specific demographic or occupational groups that call for specific program responses, such as preservation of single-room occupancy hotels or the development of units with larger bedroom counts. The statute specifically requires analysis of the special housing needs of people who are elderly or disabled (including developmental disabilities), female-headed households, large families, farmworkers, and people experiencing homelessness. These special-needs groups often spend a disproportionate amount of their income to secure safe and decent housing and are sometimes subject to discrimination based on their specific needs or circumstances.

In addition to the groups listed above, the analysis of special needs should also include any other group the locality deems appropriate such as student populations, Native American tribes, people with HIV/AIDS, etc.

Government Code

Government Code Section 65583(a)(7) requires “An analysis of any special housing needs, such as those of the elderly, persons with disabilities, including a developmental disability, as defined in Section 4512 of the Welfare and Institutions Code; large families, farmworkers, families with female heads of households, and families and persons in need of emergency shelter. The need for emergency shelter shall be assessed based on annual and seasonal need. The need for emergency shelter may be reduced by the number of supportive housing units that are identified in an adopted 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness and that either vacant or for which funding has been identified to allow construction during the planning period.”

Requisite Analysis

A thorough analysis will assist a locality in identifying groups that have the most-serious housing needs in order to develop and prioritize responsive programs. The analysis of each special-needs group should include the following:

  • A quantification of the total number of persons and households in the special housing needs group, including tenure (rental or ownership), where possible.
  • A quantification and qualitative description of the need (including a description of the potential housing problems faced by the special needs groups), a description of any existing resources or programs, and an assessment of unmet needs.
  • Identification of potential program or policy options and resources to address the need.

People in Need of Emergency Shelters

Homelessness in California is a continuing crisis that demands the effective involvement of both the public and private sectors. California has the highest population of people experiencing homeless.
In addition to the requisite analysis above, a thorough analysis of the special housing needs for families and persons in need of emergency shelters should include:

  • An estimate or count of the daily average number of people lacking shelter. Wherever possible, this figure should be divided into single males, single females, and families (one or more adults with children) as the shelter needs that each subgroup requires will differ significantly.
  • As local data allows, the number of people with mental illness, developmental disabilities, and substance abuse issues; number of domestic-violence survivors; and other categories considered significant by the jurisdiction.
  • An inventory of the resources available, including shelters, transitional housing, and supportive housing units. The analysis should include the number, approximate location, and type of existing shelter beds; hotel/motel vouchers; and units of transitional housing available. Present shelter resources by type (e.g. family shelter beds, homeless adult female housing, supportive housing, transitional living units, etc.).
  • Optional — The local need may be reduced by the number of supportive housing units that are identified in an adopted 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness. To be credited toward the need, these supportive housing units must be either vacant or, for new construction, have confirmed funding in place that will allow construction to begin during the planning period.

For assistance with the analysis of the housing needs (including a discussion of resources such as existing housing, services, and needs) contact local service providers such as continuum-of-care providers, local homeless shelter and service providers, food programs, operators of transitional housing programs, local drug and alcohol program service providers, county mental-health and social-service departments, local Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, churches, and schools. Additional information on local services and needs may also be available by contacting one of 15 countywide designated local boards certified by the HCD’s Emergency Housing and Assistance Program.

Definitions of Emergency Shelter, Supportive Housing, and Transitional Housing

Emergency shelter is defined as “housing with minimal supportive services for homeless persons that is limited to occupancy of six months or less by a homeless person. No individual or household may be denied emergency shelter because of an inability to pay.” (See Gov. Code, § 65582, subd. (d) and Health and Safety Code, § 50801, subd. (e).)

Supportive housing is defined as “housing with no limit on length of stay, that is occupied by the target population, and that is linked to onsite or offsite service that assists the supportive housing resident in retaining the housing, improving his or her health status, and maximizing his or her ability to live and, when possible, work in the community.” (Gov. Code, § 65582, subd. (g).)

Transitional housing is defined as “buildings configured as rental housing developments, but operated under program requirements that require the termination of assistance and recirculating of the assisted unit to another eligible program recipient at a predetermined future point in time that shall be no less than six months from the beginning of the assistance.” (Gov. Code, § 65582, subd. (j).)

Additional Information on Supportive Housing and Transitional Housing

Supportive housing is generally described as permanent housing linked to a range of support services designed to enable residents to maintain stable housing and lead fuller lives. Transitional housing is generally described as a type of supportive housing used to facilitate the movement of people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing and independent living.

Some transitional housing programs require that the individual/family be transitioning from a short-term emergency shelter. The supportive services may be provided directly by the organization managing the supportive or transitional housing or by other public or private agencies in a coordinated effort with the housing provider. Supportive housing and transitional housing are generally provided in apartment style facilities with a higher degree of privacy than emergency shelters; may be provided at no cost to the resident; and may be configured for specialized groups within the homeless population, such as people with substance abuse problems, people with mentally illness, domestic-violence survivors, veterans, or people with AIDS/HIV.

It should be noted that supportive housing and transitional housing are considered a residential use of property and are subject only to those restrictions that apply to other residential dwellings of the same type in the same zone. (Gov. Code, § 65583, subd. (a)(5).)

Sample Table

The following sample table can help in organizing critical information pertaining to housing-element requirements. The information provided in the table should be tailored to the jurisdiction and followed by appropriate analysis. (Note: This sample table is not intended to be a substitute for addressing the analytical requirements described in the statute.)

Homelessness Facilities
Facility Type Population Served Permanent/Seasonal Current Bed # Estimated Need Unmet Need

Zoning for Emergency Shelters and Transitional Supportive Housing

Chapter 633, Statutes of 2007 considerably strengthened the requirements on zoning for emergency shelters and transitional and supportive housing, with an effective date of January 1, 2008. For example, emergency shelters must now be permitted without a conditional use permit or other discretionary permits, and transitional housing and supportive housing are considered residential uses and must only be subject to the same restrictions that apply to the same housing types in the same zone. Also, regardless of the need, at a minimum, all jurisdictions must have a zone in place to permit at least one year-round emergency shelter without a conditional use permit or any discretionary permit requirements. Where these requirements are not met, the housing element must include a program to identify zone(s) where emergency shelters are a permitted use, within one year form the adoption of the housing element.

Funding Programs for Homeless Services

  1. The California Department of Housing and Community Development administers:
  2. The California Department of Mental Health administers the Mental Health Services Act Housing Program
  3. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development administers a number of homelessness assistance programs (communities must have a "Continuum of Care" in order to apply for funding). Learn more on the HUD Exchange website