Homelessness is No Longer a ‘Big City’ Problem

California’s homelessness crisis is no longer limited to urban areas. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, skyrocketing housing and rent prices have expanded the scope of what was once a ‘big city’ problem, pushing it into rural areas that are even less equipped to deal with its impacts.

A Chronicle analysis of biennial homeless counts taken early this year across California shows the sharpest increases occurred not in San Francisco and other urban centers but in out-of-the-way places such as the thickly forested Sierra Nevada and the dusty flatlands and low hills of the northern Sacramento Valley.

Statewide, The Chronicle’s examination shows, homelessness rose by 15 percent from 2015 to this year. In heavily populated centers such as Los Angeles and the Bay Area, where tent cities have long been part of the landscape, even double-digit increases like that might not suggest that something has fundamentally changed. But in rural areas, the increases have come as a shock.

When the number of people without homes in the historic Gold Rush territory of El Dorado County climbs 122 percent in two years, and the farmlands of Butte County see a 76 percent rise, it’s jarring to neighbors, community leaders, police and homeless people themselves. Those counties lack the years of experience that cities have in creating services for homeless people and are starting almost from scratch.

As a result of the inexperience, many of these less populated cities and counties don’t have year-round shelters to accommodate the growing number of indigent individuals. When people lose their jobs and homes, there is literally nowhere to go. Drug use also plays a formidable role.

With no end in sight to the state’s housing affordability and wage woes, experts -- and some homeless individuals themselves -- believe this is the future.

“There’s more and more of us every day,” said one woman who recently found herself on the streets. “So they’re just going to have to get used to us.”