After criticizing local officials for failing to adequately address the pernicious problem of homelessness in California, Governor Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that the state is on track to reduce the number of homeless people in an ambitious 15% in two years and has pledged to provide 1,200 Tiny Homes to help achieve this goal.
The announcement kicked off Newsom’s atypical state of the art tour of California, which replaces a speech outlining his policy agenda that governors traditionally deliver each year to the state Legislature on Capitol Hill. Newsom, who dislikes reading teleprompters due to his dyslexia, is instead taking his speech on the road this year and plans to make political announcements during stops in Sacramento, Bay Area, at Los Angeles and San Diego throughout the weekend.
Three years and weeks ago before the COVID-19 pandemic imposed a state of emergency, Newsom dedicated his entire speech to homelessness and his commitment to ending it. Newsom called the crisis a disgrace to California and said it was its “calling” to alleviate this human misery.
Since then, the numbers have only increased.
California is now home to more than 171,000 homeless people, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, a 6.2% increase since 2020. About 67%, or more than 115,000 people, are unsheltered, which which means they live outside. And that’s despite Newsom’s attention to the problem, the roughly $15 billion he’s poured into the problem since the pandemic began, and new housing programs that have sheltered thousands of Californians.
During his first tour stop in Sacramento, Newsom acknowledged “how angry we are as Californians about what is happening on the streets and sidewalks of our state.”
But he said the state has made “progress” on its ambitions to solve its biggest challenge, starting with the goal of reducing the most visible homeless population by 15%.
“It’s a new day,” he said. “New energy demands new expectations, new results.”
In the fall, Newsom cracked down on what he called a lack of accountability for local governments to aggressively tackle the problem and called for greater urgency on homelessness.
For starters, he symbolically discarded plans that cities and counties have submitted to receive funding from the state’s Housing, Homelessness Assistance, and Prevention (HHAP) grant program, which channels hundreds of millions of dollars each year to local jurisdictions.
Plans vary from community to community, depending on the homeless populations and resources needed in the area. But taken together, those plans called for a 2% reduction in homelessness statewide, a figure that Newsom dismissed as insufficient.
Newsom halted state funding, summoned local officials in Sacramento and asked them to sign a pledge promising bolder goals for this year’s funding round. Revised plans call for a 15% reduction in homelessness without shelter by 2025. While this is a bolder goal than last year, it means tens of thousands of Californians will always be homeless.
The state has so far allocated nearly $3 billion to HHAP, and Newsom has proposed an additional $1 billion in next year’s budget for a fifth round of funding.
Newsom also said it would provide 1,200 tiny homes to state jurisdictions — including 500 in Los Angeles, 150 in San Diego County, 200 in San Jose and 350 in Sacramento — to use as a temporary housing option for people who immediately leave the streets. . He called in the National Guard to help deliver the units.
The Tiny Homes will add to a list of other housing initiatives Newsom has rolled out during his tenure, including his flagship program Homekey, born out of the pandemic by emergency to quickly shelter the homeless and vulnerable in hotels and motels.
Homekey has evolved into a broad program for the state to acquire and turn these sites into more permanent and transitional housing options for the homeless. The program has created 12,774 new homes so far 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 served more than 61,000 people, according to the California Department of Social Services.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a staunch Newsom supporter, said the tiny houses would be a welcome addition to shelter options for those currently living on the streets.
Steinberg said he’d like to place Sacramento’s share of tiny homes on excess land at Cal Expo, where the state fair is held each year and where Newsom kicked off his tour and made his announcement against the backdrop of small houses lined up in a large showroom.
The tiny model homes were furnished with some of the comforts of home, including small desks and bunk beds made up of blankets and teddy bears.
“It’s another really significant contribution and investment,” Steinberg said.
Alluding to criticism that 1,200 tiny homes won’t do much to solve an out-of-control crisis, Newsom said the state needs to “provide more options.”
“The urgency of the moment demands that one of the tools, in terms of our strategy, is to immediately respond to the anxiety…to be able to actually get someone off the street and have somewhere to go,” he said. -he declares.
Still, others argued that greater investments were needed to provide permanent housing options and addiction 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 homeless homeless people in our state, I think that’s probably not going to make a huge dent,” Assemblyman Josh Hoover (R-Folsom) said. “I think this is another big announcement that I’m skeptical of that will get real results.”
Citing the lack of “a comprehensive homelessness plan with clear lines of responsibility and accountability,” California counties this week unveiled a proposal to work with the state and cities to develop a plan to reduce homelessness.
“Every level of government is doing everything possible to make progress on homelessness,” said Graham Knaus, executive director of the California State Assn. 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 needs to be. “
The proposal calls for legislative and regulatory changes that would define the roles of cities and counties with respect to shelters, supportive housing and encampments and, in turn, create more accountability. The association is also seeking continued funding to maintain the programs, among other policy changes.
“In every major policy area that is a state priority, except homelessness, there is clarity on who is doing what and how accountability ties to that,” Knaus said. “That’s just not true around homelessness.”
Chione Flegal, executive director of Housing California, also called for “mutual accountability” in solving homelessness.
The Flegal organization is working this year on legislation introduced by Assemblyman Luz Rivas (D-Arleta) to strengthen the HHAP program and ensure that 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 not exempt from that.”
Sacramento Bureau Chief Laurel Rosenhall contributed to this report.