California governor Gavin Newsom has joined the mayors of some of California’s largest cities in calling for increased state funding to tackle the state’s homelessness problem. The governor has requested more homeless services spending in his budget plan.
State figures show California already spends about $500 million annually on programs for the homeless. Governor Newsom and the mayors have agreed that more money is needed to make a real dent in one of the state’s most vexing problems. Newsom said the fight against homelessness has to focus on the immediate needs of the homeless, while also looking for long-term solutions.
The state needs long-term solutions to homelessness
“I’ve said it many times. Shelter solves sleep, but housing and supportive services solve homelessness,” said Newsom at a recent news conference held with the mayors at the state capitol in Sacramento to make their pitch for increased spending. “But the crisis demands urgency in the immediate as we invest in the medium and long term. And so that’s what our budget reflects.”
The group of mayors from the state’s 13 biggest cities wants an additional $500 million from the state to fund grants for programs like emergency shelters, supportive housing and mental health treatment. San Francisco Democrat and Assembly Budget Committee chairman Phil Ting, warned that the state budget needs time to come into better focus before more money can be allocated to addressing the problem. Newsom released his original spending plan for fiscal 2019 in January.
“Most of what we’re talking about here at the table is one time funding, not necessarily ongoing services,” said Ting at the Sacramento news conference. “So we want to make sure we fit in that reality. But, we are currently about $2 billion under in terms of January numbers so we do have to evaluate that as we go through our budget process.”
California leads nation in numbers of homeless
Newsom and the mayors pointed out that California has the dubious distinction of being the national leader in numbers of homeless.
“California is the richest economy in this world and yet home to one-half of the unsheltered residents of this nation,” said Democratic Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf.
There are about 130,000 homeless Californians, making up nearly a quarter of the national total. That’s according to the Public Policy Institute of California, or PPIC.
Mayor Schaaf said such daunting numbers can be best tackled at the local level with the help of state dollars. For example, Schaaf said, Oakland’s “Cabin Community” temporary shed shelter program has helped hundreds of homeless Oakland residents get off the streets.
“Seventy-two percent of our cabin community residents have exited to transitional and permanent housing,” said Schaaf. “That, I would say, is a successful experiment.”
Governor Newsom didn’t say what changes he would make to the $1.75 billion he’s set aside in his budget proposal for housing issues.
Some reforms may be needed to streamline new housing construction
San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer is one of the few Republican mayors adding his voice to the call for increased homeless services funding. He said that along with the funding, reforms to California’s Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) needs to be taken into account. He said cutting back on the regulations could help fast-track the building of new affordable housing units.
Faulconer said it would “actually make sure we could move good quality projects off the drawing board and into reality.” He added, “too often Ceqa is used as a weapon to stop good quality housing projects ladies and gentleman. We have to have that reform.”
And most housing experts agree, California has far fewer available home than are needed. The mayors said the lack of housing stock is helping to cause rental prices to skyrocket. According to the Public Policy Institute, California has the highest poverty rate in the nation once the cost of housing is factored in. Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, San Jose’s Sam Liccardo and Sacramento’s Darrell Steinberg are among the other mayors joining Governor Newsom in his call for an increase in state spending on homelessness. The state legislature is currently reviewing Governor Newsom’s 2019 spending blueprint.