SAN DIEGO – California Gov. Gavin Newsom has agreed to release $1 billion in state homelessness funding that he put on hold earlier this month, but only if local governments agree to ramp up the aggressiveness of their plans to reduce the number of homeless people. homeless in the state, his office said Friday.
The Democratic governor met with mayors and local officials after announcing two weeks ago that he would withhold the money until cities and counties come up with stronger plans. He called the plans unveiled “simply unacceptable” as they would collectively reduce the state’s homeless population by just 2% over the next four years.
“Everyone has to do better, including cities, counties and the state. We are all in this together,” he said in a Nov. 3 press release.
Newsom, who was up for re-election this month, is hooked on his second term to show reductions in the growing number of homeless people, some of whom are camping out on city sidewalks and under highway underpasses, exasperating even the most politically liberal voters in the country’s most populous state.
Mayors and county officials, many of whom are Democrats, as well as low-income housing advocates rejected his effort to withhold funding, saying it was counterproductive to withhold money needed for shelter beds, community workers and other services for the homeless. They pleaded with the governor for further instructions, as well as guaranteed and continued funding to build more ambitious plans.
“This is the main problem in our state; is the main issue for Californians. Budgets are about priorities, and I think we need to make this a priority and address it for the crisis that it is,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said Friday.
Addressing homelessness has been left to local governments in California for decades, but Newsom took office in 2019 vowing to take charge of an issue he said he understood intimately as the former mayor of San Francisco, where tent encampments they crowd the sidewalks and people in clear mental health crisis are a common sight.
California had an estimated 161,000 homeless people in 2020 and the number is expected to be higher this year, as a result of the high cost of housing in the state and the historical lack of home construction. Homeless advocates say they can’t keep up and that even as they find housing for some, many more lose their homes.
That possibility of a separate funding stream for the homeless grew dim this week after state officials announced Wednesday that California will likely run a $25 billion budget deficit next year after a run of record 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 what was the third round of disbursements.
There’s an additional $1 billion on the table, but Newsom won’t release that money unless those governments commit to “be more aggressive across the board,” said Erin Mellon, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office. Plans must be submitted within two weeks.
Applicants must also agree to implement as many best practices as possible, including more efficient methods to help people find housing and speeding up the construction of more housing for poor and extremely poor households.
California cities and counties have been 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.
The Newsom administration is also cracking down on local governments that won’t build more, launching investigations and filing lawsuits to force production.