If I'm Homeless Can I Qualify for Food Stamps or Medi-Cal?

If you are homeless and living in California, you may be eligible to receive both food and medical benefits. You can receive these benefits even if you don't have a permanent mailing address. If you have a caseworker through Social Security or a shelter, she may be able to assist you in applying for these programs.

Food Stamps for the Homeless

In California the food stamp program is known as CalFresh. Homeless individuals who meet income and residency requirements are eligible for food stamps. When you are approved for CalFresh, you are issued an electronic benefits transfer card, which works like a debit card. The CalFresh program loads your card each month with funds that you can use to buy food.

Hot Foods

Normally, recipients cannot use their food stamp benefits to purchase hot foods, but the CalFresh program in some counties makes an exception for those who may be unable to cook food for themselves, or have no kitchen in which to prepare meals, such as the homeless, elderly or disabled. If you use your CalFresh benefits to purchase hot meals, you will not be charged sales tax or a gratuity.

SSI Exception

If you receive Supplemental Security Income benefits, you are not eligible for CalFresh. This is because California supplements your SSI benefits with extra money that you can use to purchase food.


Medi-Cal is the California Medicaid program, which provides medical coverage for some residents who don't have standard medical insurance. Homeless individuals who meet the eligibility requirements, such as having a disability, or being over 65 or under 21, can receive Medi-Cal benefits. In some counties, mobile medical clinics provide health care services for the homeless, and these clinics often accept Medi-Cal, or can assist you in applying for benefits.

Applying for Aid

Every county in California has its own process for applying for benefits. In many places, you can fill out one application to be considered for several public aid programs. You can apply online or you can contact your county's social services office for assistance. Many counties allow you to file your application online through the C4yourself.com website. This website also provides you with links to the websites for counties that don't participate in the C4Yourself program.