April 20 (Reuters) - California does a poor job helping homeless people who live in cars, abandoned buildings and on the street find shelter and must do more to address the problem in their state that leads the nation in homelessness, the state's auditor said on Thursday.
Lawmakers should require the state's newly formed homeless council to create and implement a statewide plan by next April for addressing homelessness in California, where about a fourth of all homeless people in the United States live, State Auditor Elaine Howle said in a report.
"California should do more to address homelessness ... and it does a poor job of sheltering this vulnerable population," the report said.
Howle also recommended the state fully staff the council, created in 2016, increase funding for activities recommended by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development and improve efforts to raise non-federal money to address homelessness, which increased 14 percent from 2016 to 2017 in California.
"At first blush the audit appears to highlight what is obvious to many Californians; the state needs to do a better job of getting people off the streets," said State Senator Scott Wilk, who requested the report, in a statement.
The Los Angeles metro area has alone seen a 75 percent increase in unsheltered homelessness in the last six years, partly due to the lack of affordable housing in the area, according to federal data.
"We have tried every avenue for the last two years ... nothing," Theresa Shelton, 32, who lives in a car with her boyfriend in Lancaster, a city in northern Los Angeles County, told Reuters. She added that the system to help the homeless is greatly overburdened.
Three out of every four of the 55,000 homeless people in the Los Angeles metro area are in a similar situation, living in a car, abandoned buildings or on the street. In contrast, only one out of every 20 of the 76,000 homeless people in New York, the nation's largest metro area, are unsheltered, the report said.
Two factors have played a role in the difference between New York and Los Angeles. First, up until recently, when the state's homeless council was formed, California did not have a single entity that was dealing with homelessness.
In the New York metro area, where about 85 percent of the state's homeless live, however, New York City’s Department of Homeless Services is a well established entity with 2,000 employees and a $1 billion budget, the report said.
The other factor is money. New York's homeless agency budgeted $17,000 while Los Angeles budgeted $5,000 per homeless individual in 2017, the report said.
"The right to shelter in New York City is legally mandated and plays a central role in shaping its response to homelessness," the report said. (Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee Editing by Hugh Lawson)