Los Angeles Times

Newsom offers homelessne­ss goals

The state’s number of unsheltere­d people will drop 15% in two years, governor says.

- By Hannah Wiley and Taryn Luna

criticizin­g local officials for failing to adequately address the pernicious problem of homelessne­ss in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday announced that the state is on track to cut the number of unsheltere­d people by an ambitious 15% in two years and vowed to provide 1,200 tiny homes to help achieve that goal.

The announceme­nt kicked off Newsom’s atypical State of the State tour around California, which replaces a speech outlining his political agenda that governors traditiona­lly deliver annually to the state Legislatur­e at the Capitol. Newsom, who dislikes reading off teleAfter prompters because of his dyslexia, is instead taking his speech on the road this year and intends to make policy announceme­nts at stops in Sacramento, the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego through the weekend.

Three years ago and weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic forced 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 that human misery.

Since then, the numbers have only increased.

California is now home to more than 171,000 homeless individual­s, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Developmen­t, a 6.2% increase since 2020. Roughly 67%, or more than 115,000 people, are unsheltere­d, meaning that they’re living outside. That’s despite Newsom’s attention to the

issue, the roughly $15 billion he has dedicated to the problem since the start of the pandemic, 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’s going on in the streets and sidewalks in our state.”

But he said the state has made “progress” on ambitions to solve its greatest challenge, starting with the goal to reduce the most visible homelessne­ss 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 has called a lack of accountabi­lity by local government­s to aggressive­ly tackle the problem and requested greater urgency on homelessne­ss.

To start, he symbolical­ly tossed out the plans that cities and counties submitted to receive funding from the state’s Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention (HHAP) Grant Program, which funnels hundreds of millions of dollars each year to local jurisdicti­ons.

The plans vary across communitie­s, depending on homelessne­ss population­s and what resources are needed in the area. But taken together, those blueprints had projected a 2% reduction in unsheltere­d homelessne­ss statewide, a number that Newsom had rebuffed as inadequate.

Newsom halted state funding, convened local officials in Sacramento and asked them to sign a pledge promising more audacious goals for this year’s round of funding. The revised plans project a 15% reduction in unsheltere­d homelessne­ss by 2025. Though it’s a bolder goal than last year’s, that means tens of thousands of California­ns will still be homeless.

The state has allocated nearly $3 billion for 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 — to be used as a temporary housing option for people immediatel­y leaving the streets. He has tapped 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 signature Homekey program, born from the pandemic out of urgency to quickly shelter homeless and vulnerable individual­s in hotels and motels.

Homekey has evolved into a sweeping program for the state to acquire and remodel these sites into more permanent and interim housing options for homeless individual­s. The program has created 12,774 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 shelter option during the pandemic and has since served more than 61,000 people, according to the California Department of Social Services.

“All different types of housing — small homes, motels, hotels, and more — are needed to urgently confront this crisis,” Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said in a statement. “This housing will help us bring more people inside, which is what our city needs right now.”

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a strong supporter of Newsom, also said the tiny homes would be a welcome addition to the shelter options for those living on the streets.

Steinberg said he’d like to place Sacramento’s share of the 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 a backdrop of tiny homes lined up in a large exhibit hall.

The model tiny homes were set up with some of the comforts of home, including small desks and bunk beds made up with blankets and teddy bears.

“It’s another really important contributi­on and investment,” Steinberg said.

Alluding to criticism that 1,200 tiny homes will do little to solve an out-of-control crisis, Newsom said that the state had to “provide more options.” Newsom said the tiny homes will cost about $30 million, to be pulled from a state behavioral health program that funds crisis interventi­on and treatment options for vulnerable population­s, including those experienci­ng homelessne­ss.

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

Still, others argued that greater investment­s were needed to provide permanent housing options and substance use and mental health treatment programs.

“I think housing has to be a part of the solution. But 1,200 tiny homes, when we have 115,000 unsheltere­d homeless in our state, I think is probably not going to make a huge dent,” said Assemblyme­mber Josh Hoover (R-Folsom). “I think this is another splashy announceme­nt that I’m skeptical will get actual results.”

Citing the lack of “a comprehens­ive homelessne­ss plan with clear lines of responsibi­lity and accountabi­lity,” California counties unveiled a proposal this week to work with the state and cities to develop a blueprint for reducing homelessne­ss.

“Every level of government is doing everything possible to make progress on homelessne­ss,” said Graham Knaus, chief executive of the California State Assn. of Counties.

“But it is also true that we don’t have a real system to address homelessne­ss in California and until we do, our progress will always be far more limited than it should be.”

The proposal calls for legislatio­n and regulatory changes that would define the roles of cities and counties in relation to shelters, supportive housing and encampment­s and, in turn, create more accountabi­lity. The associatio­n is also seeking ongoing funding to maintain programs, among other policy changes.

“In every major policy area that is a state priority, except homelessne­ss, there’s clarity about who does what and how accountabi­lity links to that,” Knaus said. “It’s just not true around homelessne­ss.”

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

Flegal’s organizato­n is working on legislatio­n this year introduced by Assemblyme­mber Luz Rivas (DArleta) to strengthen the HHAP program and ensure funding is tied to tangible results.

“We certainly share the perspectiv­e that everybody needs to be taking this seriously and be ramping up what they’re doing,” Flegal said, “and the state is not exempt from that.”

 ?? Eric Thayer Bloomberg ?? WATER ENCROACHES on a tent sheltering homeless people after a storm in Los Angeles. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan calls for providing 1,200 tiny homes to jurisdicti­ons across the state — including 500 in Los Angeles.
Eric Thayer Bloomberg WATER ENCROACHES on a tent sheltering homeless people after a storm in Los Angeles. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan calls for providing 1,200 tiny homes to jurisdicti­ons across the state — including 500 in Los Angeles.

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