California’s plans to reduce the nation’s largest homeless population aren’t good enough, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday, urging him to halt $1 billion in public spending for local governments as seeks to reset state strategy ahead of his scheduled second term in office.
California’s homeless population — likely higher than the estimated 161,000 in 2020 — is one of the state’s most pressing public issues, as the high cost of living has only risen the size and number of homeless encampments that dot cities across the state.
For decades, the California state government has viewed homelessness as a local problem, paying cities and counties tens of billions of state tax dollars to design and administer programs aimed at to get people off the streets and to house them permanently. This included a recent pledge by state lawmakers to spend $15.3 billion over the next three years.
But the state’s homeless population seemed to grow in concert with rising state spending, frustrating officials. California counties, the 13 largest cities and groups of homeless service providers were in line to receive about $1 billion in public homeless spending, but only if they submitted plans on the how they would use the money. On Thursday, Newsom said the plans were “simply unacceptable” because they would collectively reduce the state’s homeless population by just 2% over the next four years.
Newsom said he would suspend that spending, calling a meeting with local officials later this month to “review the state’s collective approach to homelessness.”
“At this rate, it would take decades to significantly reduce homelessness in California,” Newsom said in a press release. “Everyone needs to do better – cities, counties and the state included. We’re all in this.”
Local leaders were not happy.
The California State Association of Counties has been advocating with the governor for a “comprehensive statewide plan” that clearly outlines the responsibilities of cities and counties, and with money earmarked for jurisdictions to succeed, said executive director Graham Knaus in a statement.
In San Jose – the 10th largest city in the United States, with more than a million residents – Mayor Sam Liccardo said if Newsom wanted to be bold in solving the homelessness crisis, he would dedicate 10% of recent historic state budget surpluses to housing construction. and requiring homeless people to take permanent accommodation when offered, among other reforms.
“Let’s put down the megaphones and get the shovels,” Liccardo said.
In Oakland, Mayor Libby Schaaf, who leads a coalition of mayors from the state’s 13 largest cities, said she shares the governor’s need for urgency and accountability, but doesn’t understand how delaying funding is helping. the situation.
“Oakland followed the state’s process exactly as directed, so we hope this pause incorporates our front-line wisdom and improves on last year’s process,” she said.
A common plea echoed by mayors and homelessness advocates was the need for dedicated funding so cities and counties can plan ahead and increase the number of people they expect to help.
Chione Flegal, executive director of Housing California, said $1 billion sounds like a lot, but it’s “a drop in the ocean compared to the incredible needs people are facing.” She said massive investments in public health, affordable housing stock and the social safety net are also needed to truly address homelessness.
Newsom is up for re-election this year and is set to win a second term as he takes on a little-known Republican senator. But Newsom’s political future, including a potential run for president, could be complicated by California’s ongoing homelessness crisis.
Since taking office in 2019, Newsom has been more aggressive in establishing and enforcing a statewide homelessness policy. In 2019, the Newsom administration sued the Southern California city of Huntington Beach, accusing local authorities of ignoring state requirements for affordable housing.
Earlier this year, the Newsom administration launched a first-of-its-kind investigation into San Francisco’s housing policies aimed at understanding why it’s taking officials so long to approve housing projects. And last month, the Newsom administration and the state attorney general joined a lawsuit against the city of Anaheim, alleging officials there violated state housing laws.
Over the past year, the Newsom administration said it cleaned up 1,600 homeless encampments, cleaning up 2,227 tons of trash, enough to fill more than 40 Olympic-size swimming pools. He also signed a new law that will allow judges to force some homeless people into treatment – a controversial proposal opposed by civil rights advocates who say it goes too far.
Homeless advocates say coercive treatment when there aren’t enough beds or services and cleaning up encampments won’t seriously reduce the number of homeless people in California.
“Homeless people are not trash to be thrown away,” said Flegal.
But Jim Wood, a Democratic member of the state Assembly whose district includes the North Shore, said he “wholeheartedly applauds” Newsom’s decision.
“The money isn’t going to go very far and you’re not going to get much done unless you find a different way of doing things,” he said.