California governor plans to release $1 billion for homelessness

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom agreed to release $1 billion in state funding for homelessness, which he irritably paused earlier this month, but only if local governments agree to scale back the aggressiveness of their plans Reducing homelessness will increase the number of people without shelter in the state, his office said on Friday.

The Democratic governor met with mayors and local officials after announcing two weeks ago that he would withhold money until cities and counties came up with more robust plans. He called the submitted plans “simply unacceptable” because they would reduce the state’s total homelessness by just 2% over the next four years.

“Everyone needs to do better – including cities, counties and the state. We’re all in this together,” he said in a Nov. 3 press release.

Newsom, who is driving for re-election this month, is on the hook in his second term to show a reduction in the growing number of homeless people, some of whom are camping on city sidewalks and under freeway underpasses, which has left even the most politically liberal voters in the city United States upset the country’s most populous state.

Mayors and county officials — many of whom are Democrats — as well as low-income housing advocates, have opposed his efforts to withhold funding, saying it is counterproductive to withhold money for emergency shelters, outreach workers and other services for homeless people. They asked the governor for more direction — as well as guaranteed, ongoing funding to develop more ambitious plans.

‚ÄúThis is the top issue in our state; it’s the hot topic for Californians. Budgets are about priorities and I think we need to make that a priority and address it for the crisis it is,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said Friday.

Tackling homelessness was left to local governments in California for decades, but Newsom took office in 2019 and pledged to champion an issue he raised as a former San Francisco mayor, where tent camps crowd sidewalks and people in clear mental health crises are very well understand a common sight.

California had an estimated 161,000 homeless people in 2020, with the number expected to be higher this year due to the state’s high housing costs and the historic substructure of homes. Advocates for the homeless say they can’t keep up and that while some are finding shelter, many more are losing their homes.

That possibility of a separate funding stream for homelessness weakened this week after state officials announced on Wednesday that California is likely to run a $25 billion budget deficit next year after a series of historic 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 the third round of payouts.

Another billion dollars is on the table, but Newsom won’t release that money unless those governments promise to be “more aggressive across the board,” said Erin Mellon, spokeswoman for the governor’s office. The plans are due in two weeks.

Applicants must also agree to implement as many best practices as possible, including more efficient ways of getting people assistance and housing, and streamlining 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, and many said they don’t want the congestion and neighborhood changes that come with more people.

The Newsom government is also cracking down on local governments who refuse to build, investigating and filing lawsuits to force production.

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