Newsom is raising the bar with a goal to reduce homelessness by 15%

Newsom is raising the bar with a goal to reduce homelessness by 15%

  • US News
  • March 16, 2023
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After criticizing local officials for not adequately addressing California’s pernicious problem of homelessness, Governor Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that the state is on track to increase the number of people without shelter by an ambitious 15% in two years lower, and pledged to provide 1,200 small homes to help meet that goal.

The announcement kicked off Newsom’s atypical state of the state tour of California, replacing a speech outlining his policy agenda that governors traditionally deliver annually before the state legislature in the Capitol. Newsom, who doesn’t like reading teleprompters because of his dyslexia, is taking his speech to the streets instead this year and intends to make political announcements at stops in Sacramento, the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego throughout the weekend.

Three years ago and weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic enforced a state of emergency, Newsom dedicated his entire address to homelessness and his commitment to ending it. Newsom called the crisis a disgrace to California and said it was his “calling” to alleviate this human misery.

Since then, the numbers have only increased.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, California now has more than 171,000 homeless people, a 6.2% increase since 2020. About 67%, or more than 115,000 people, are homeless, meaning they live outdoors. And that’s despite Newsom’s attention to the problem, the roughly $15 billion he’s dedicated to the problem since the pandemic began, and new housing programs that have offered shelter to thousands of Californians.

During his first tour stop in Sacramento, Newsom admitted “how angry we, as Californians, are about what’s going on on the streets and sidewalks of our state.”

But he said the state has made “progress” on ambitions to solve its biggest challenge, starting with a goal of reducing the most visible homeless population by 15%.

“It’s a new day,” he said. “New energy requires new expectations, new outcomes.”

In the fall, Newsom cracked down on what he describes as a lack of accountability on the part of local governments to aggressively address the problem and called for greater urgency on homelessness.

To begin with, he symbolically scrapped plans that cities and counties had submitted to receive funding from the state’s Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention (HHAP) grant program, which channels hundreds of millions of dollars to local jurisdictions each year.

Plans vary from community to community based on the homeless population and what resources are needed in the area. But taken together, those blueprints had projected a 2% reduction in vulnerable homelessness statewide, a number that Newsom dismissed as insufficient.

Newsom halted state funding, summoned local Sacramento officials and asked them to sign a pledge promising bolder targets for this year’s funding round. The revised plans call for a 15% reduction in vulnerable homelessness by 2025. While this is a more ambitious goal than last year, it means tens of thousands of Californians will still be homeless.

The state has committed nearly $3 billion to HHAP so far, and Newsom has proposed an additional $1 billion in next year’s budget for a fifth round of funding.

Newsom also said he will provide 1,200 tiny homes to jurisdictions across the state — including 500 in Los Angeles, 150 in San Diego County, 200 in San Jose and 350 in Sacramento — as temporary housing for people who will immediately get off the streets. He tapped into the National Guard to help deliver the units.

The tiny homes add to a list of other housing initiatives Newsom has rolled out during his tenure, including his signature Homekey program, born out of urgency from the pandemic to quickly accommodate the homeless and vulnerable in hotels and motels.

Homekey has grown into a comprehensive program for the state to acquire these locations and convert them into more permanent and temporary housing options for the homeless. To date, the program has created 12,774 new homes with $2.7 billion in funding, according to the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency.

A similar initiative, Project Roomkey, was created as a temporary housing option during the pandemic and has since helped more than 61,000 people, according to the California Department of Social Services.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a strong Newsom supporter, said the tiny homes are a welcome addition to the housing options for those currently living on the streets.

Steinberg said he would like to place Sacramento’s share of the tiny houses on surplus land at Cal Expo, where the state fair is held each year and where Newsom started his tour and made his announcement against a backdrop of tiny houses lined up in a row were large exhibition hall.

The tiny model houses have been furnished with some of the comforts of home, including small desks and bunk beds with blankets and teddy bears.

“This is another really important contribution and investment,” Steinberg said.

Alluding to criticism that 1,200 tiny homes would do little to solve a runaway crisis, Newsom said the state must “provide more options”.

“The urgency of the moment requires that one of the tools in terms of our strategy is to address the fear immediately…actually get someone off the street and have a place,” he said.

Still others argued that greater investment was needed to provide permanent housing and drug use and mental health treatment programs.

“I think housing has to be part of the solution. But 1,200 tiny homes, when we have 115,000 vulnerable homeless people in our state, I don’t think it’s likely to make a big dent,” said Assembly Member Josh Hoover (R-Folsom). “I think this is another splashy announcement that I’m skeptical of real results.”

Citing the lack of a “comprehensive homelessness plan with clear accountabilities and accountabilities,” California counties this week unveiled a proposal to work with the state and cities to develop a blueprint to reduce homelessness.

“Every level of government is doing whatever it takes to make progress on homelessness,” said Graham Knaus, executive director of the California State Assn. of counties. “But it’s also true that we don’t have a real system to address homelessness in California, and until we do, our progress will always be much more limited than it should be.”

The proposal calls for legislative and regulatory changes that would define the role of cities and counties in relation to emergency shelters, supportive shelters and camps, and in turn create more accountability. The association seeks ongoing funding to sustain programs, among other policy changes.

“In every major policy area that is a state priority, with the exception of homelessness, there is clarity about who is doing what and what the accountability is,” Knaus said. “It’s just not true when it comes to homelessness.”

Chione Flegal, executive director of Housing California, also called for “mutual accountability” in solving homelessness.

Flegal’s organization is working this year on legislation introduced by MP Luz Rivas (D-Arleta) to strengthen the HHAP program and ensure funding is tied to tangible results.

“We certainly share the view that everyone needs to take this seriously and step up what they’re doing,” Flegal said, “and the state is no exception.”

Sacramento Bureau Chief Laurel Rosenhall contributed to this report.

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