California governor set to release $1 billion for homelessness

Associated press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Governor Gavin Newsom has agreed to release $1 billion in state funding for homelessness that he paused earlier this month, but only if the local governments agree to step up aggressive plans going forward to reduce the number of homeless people in the state.

The Democratic governor said his Friday afternoon meeting with about 100 mayors and local officials in person and was virtually productive, with leaders on the same page about what needs to be done and willing to step up their Goals.

“It was nice to hear their progress. And it was nice to hear their acknowledgment that we need to take it to another level,” he told reporters after the more than two-hour meeting. what I want to see is what everyone wants to see: the streets of California cleaned up. We want to see camps cleaned up, we want to see people housed.

Newsom, who won re-election this month, is set to show a reduction in the growing number of homeless people, some of whom are camping along city sidewalks and under highway underpasses, infuriating even local voters. more politically liberal from the most populous state in the country.

He stunned the state when he announced two weeks ago that he would withhold $1 billion in spending until cities and counties come up with more robust plans, calling the submitted plans ‘simply unacceptable. because they would collectively reduce the state’s homeless population by just 2% over the next four years.

Mayors and county officials — many of whom are Democrats — as well as low-income housing advocates have pushed back on his efforts to withhold funding, saying it was counterproductive to hold the money needed for shelter beds, outreach workers and other services for homeless people. They pleaded with the governor for more direction – as well as guaranteed and continued funding to build more ambitious plans.

On Friday, he reiterated the record amount his administration has spent on housing and homelessness, including a recent pledge by state lawmakers to spend $15.3 billion over the next three years. The money has housed tens of thousands of people, he said, but acknowledged that people were not seeing results on the streets.

Newsom said he had no intention of turning his back on local governments, but that “finding new dedicated funds as we enter what could be a recession with the headwinds, you have to be sober at about it – just as they are sober about it with their budget.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg defended Newsom, saying after the meeting that he understood the governor’s need to provoke action from local governments. He praised Newsom for his leadership on the issue — from converting motels into homes to new mental health courts to treat homeless people with schizophrenia and other serious mental health issues.

But not everyone understood the point of Friday’s meeting.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who joined virtually, said there were too many people and little room for “frank and constructive dialogue.” He and other mayors learned several days ago that Newsom planned to release the money if they submitted new plans.

Overall, the governor seemed to be on a different page than the state housing department, which worked with San Jose and other cities on their initial plans, said Liccardo, also a Democrat.

“There seem to be conflicting notions about what is needed,” he said.

The California State Counties Association was outspoken in its criticism.

“We cannot solve an ongoing crisis with one-off commitments. Progress requires clear state, county, and city roles aligned with sustainable and equitable funding. We need to get out of our own way and work together,” said Graham Knaus, executive director of the association that represents all 58 counties in the state.

Tackling homelessness was left for decades to local governments in California, but Newsom took office in 2019 promising to take care of an issue he said he understood intimately as a former mayor of San Francisco, where tent camps crowd sidewalks and people in clear mental health crisis are a common sight.

California had about 161,000 homeless people in 2020, with that number expected to be higher this year, due to the state’s high cost of housing and historic home underconstruction. Homeless advocates say they can’t keep up and while they find housing for some, many more are losing their homes.

That possibility of a separate funding stream for homelessness faded this week after state officials announced Wednesday that California will likely run a $25 billion budget shortfall next year after a series of historic surpluses.

The state’s 13 largest cities, 58 counties and 44 homeless service provider groups submitted 75 applications detailing their plans to spend $1 billion in the third round of installments.

An additional billion dollars is on the table, but Newsom won’t release that money unless these governments commit “to be more aggressive at every level,” said Erin Mellon, spokeswoman for the governor’s office. Plans are expected in two weeks.

Applicants must also agree to implement as many best practices as possible, including more effective methods of getting people into housing and streamlining the construction of more houses for poor and extremely poor households.

The Newsom administration is also cracking down on California cities and counties reluctant to build more housing, including affordable housing, with many saying they don’t want the congestion and neighborhood changes that come with more people.

AP reporter Kathleen Ronayne contributed reporting from Sacramento, Calif.