Tent-lined streets with belongings scattered everywhere. Infected wounds with bugs living inside. A man who hasn’t showered in over a decade. An 80-year-old woman who can’t feed herself. People who ride the metro rail lines because the trains are a safer place to sleep.

California’s homeless problem has been out of control for decades. Then came COVID-19.

The result has been a deadly combination of medical crisis, human hopelessness and bureaucratic red tape as the state, reeling from the virus’ impacts, tries to rebound with a plan for the 160,000 homeless people. That number eclipses any other state – and accounts for half of the country’s entire unsheltered population.

A severe shelter and housing shortage is becoming not just a social services problem, but a political one as well, unlike anywhere in the country – thrusting the problem before the eyes of Californians who see people suffering and dying on the streets each day.