Audit: California Effort to Solve Homelessness Disjointed and Ineffective

The California state auditor blasted the state’s effort to solve its homelessness crisis by throwing vast sums of money at it as disjointed and wholly ineffective.

Tents, shelters and belongings line a street near downtown Los Angeles. (Nathan Solis / CNS)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — California State Auditor Elaine Howle released a report Thursday finding the state’s approach to the issue of homelessness is fragmented and disorganized. Accordingly, it’s also as ineffective as it is expensive. 

“With more than 151,000 Californians who experienced homelessness in 2019, the state has the largest homeless population in the nation, but its approach to addressing homelessness is disjointed,” Howle wrote in a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom and other state leaders. “At least nine state agencies administer and oversee 41 different programs that provide funding to mitigate homelessness, yet no single entity oversees the state’s efforts or is responsible for developing a statewide strategic plan.”

Specifically, the report faults the newly created Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council for failing to create a centralized approach to homelessness issues by establishing priorities and aligning funding through a strategic plan. 

“The state continues to lack a comprehensive understanding of its spending to address homelessness, the specific services the programs provide, or the individuals who receive those services,” Howle wrote Thursday. “The homeless council has also not created guidance or expectations.”

Newsom’s office said Thursday the homelessness council is preparing an action plan as well as a data-aggregation plan that will be released in the coming weeks. 

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle acknowledged homelessness is an intractable problem and the state’s approach could be improved. 

Assembly member David Chiu, D-San Francisco, said there needs to be better coordination between agencies and a more overarching strategy.

“This is hard work,” he said. “I think everyone understands it needs to happen.”

State Senator Jim Nielsen, R-Red Bluff, was more disparaging in his assessment of the state’s work. 

“This is so critically important, and we’ve been wasting billions of dollars and not helping the poor folks who are suffering,” he said Thursday. 

The state follows a continuum of care programmatic approach as outlined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. To qualify for federal grants, local jurisdictions must comply with the continuum of care model, which delegates a local or state agency to comprehensively coordinate services and funding for homeless individuals and families. 

The continuum must have four parts:

First, outtake and intake must exist to meet homeless individuals and assess the requirements and qualifications for various services and funding. Second, there needs to be an emergency shelter to prevent individuals and especially families from sleeping on the streets. Third, temporary shelter supplemented with programs like job skills training to assist with individuals seeking more permanent solutions to their housing issues. Fourth, there must be permanent and affordable housing to provide homeless individuals with a place to live and a place to gain access to services if needed. 

“None of the five (continuum of care programs) we reviewed has adequately determined whether it has enough service providers to meet the needs of those experiencing homelessness,” Howle wrote. 

Newsom pledged to make the homelessness crisis in the state — often linked to the housing affordability crisis — the center of his policymaking efforts, devoting much of his 2020 budget reveal to this issue. Those efforts have since been derailed by the Covid-19 crisis that has occupied his and other state officials’ attention, but homelessness continues to be a problem and in fact has been exacerbated by widespread small business closures in a variety of industries most severely hurt by the lockdown policies associated with the Covid-19 response. 

The largest cause of homelessness is a lack of affordable housing in a given community, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Poverty, unemployment, mental illness and drug addiction round out the list of biggest contributors to homelessness. 

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