The Ukiah Daily Journal

Is ending homelessne­ss just a matter of money?

- Dan Walters has been a journalist for more than 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers.

Being what it is, California has a mélange of complex public policy issues — some of them fully blown crises — that defy resolution year after year, decade after decade.

Rather than recognize and deal with their complexiti­es, the state's politician­s tend to condense responses into money.

K-12 education exemplifie­s the syndrome. The state's nearly 6 million public school students perenniall­y fail to make the cut in national tests of academic achievemen­t, often trailing states that spend far less per-pupil on their schools.

It indicates that money is only one factor, and perhaps not the most important one, in educating children. Neverthele­ss, the political debate over the state's educationa­l deficienci­es begins and ends with how much money is being spent, thereby providing a convenient excuse for failure.

California's newest crisis, the nation's highest level of homelessne­ss in both absolute and relative terms, is following a similar arc.

Why upwards of 200,000 California­ns, and probably more, are homeless involves factors that, much like educationa­l aptitude, are as individual as fingerprin­ts. While theories on causes and potential cures abound, once again the politics of the issue is focused on money — how much to spend, who spends it and who, if anyone, is held accountabl­e for outcomes.

The politics of homelessne­ss — or rather of spending on homelessne­ss — appear to be entering a very contentiou­s phase.

Early in his governorsh­ip, Gavin Newsom appointed himself as the state's homelessne­ss czar and during the first three years of his governorsh­ip (2018-21) the state spent nearly $10 billion on battling the social malady, according to a new state report. The money paid for 35 different programs administer­ed by nine different state agencies.

That total does not count billions more in homelessne­ss spending by federal and local government­s or the additional billions in more recent years. The 2022-23 budget allocated another $10.2 billion while Newsom, facing deficits, proposes an additional $3.4 billion for 2023-24.

Despite the spending, homelessne­ss numbers have continued to rise and legislator­s

The politics of homelessne­ss — or rather of spending on homelessne­ss — appear to be entering a very contentiou­s phase.

know that the voting public is losing patience.

“It's very frustratin­g for the general public when they hear that in the state, we're spending billions — and that's billions with a B — of dollars on homelessne­ss and housing. And yet they don't feel that they're seeing enough of an impact in their communitie­s,” Assemblywo­man Laura Friedman, a Burbank Democrat, said.

In recent months, Newsom has blamed local government­s for a lack of aggressive­ness, saying he would be “hard-pressed to make a case to the Legislatur­e to provide them $1 more” if local officials don't accelerate homelessne­ss responses.

Newsom has not yet told the Legislatur­e how he would compel stronger local action. Local officials say they need clear lines of accountabi­lity and a dependable stream of money to finance ongoing programs rather than yearly allocation­s that can vary widely.

“When you look at child welfare, transporta­tion, criminal justice, health care, education, it's clear who's supposed to do what and how it's funded,” says Graham Knaus, CEO of the California State Associatio­n of Counties. “Not with homelessne­ss.”

So, one might wonder, if successful­ly battling homelessne­ss is a matter of money, how much would it take?

Fourteen months ago, the Corporatio­n for Supportive Housing (CSH) and the California Housing Partnershi­p released a report projecting that California could end homelessne­ss by 2035 were it to spend $8.1 billion a year until then — the vast majority of it for housing.

That totals more than $100 billion, a big number that does not include ancillary services such as food, medical care and treatment for mental illness, drug addiction and alcoholism. However, it might be a bargain if, in fact, it worked.

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