California Mayors Ask State to Pony Up $20 Billion to Fight Homeless Crisis

The 13 mayors from California’s largest cities say an unexpected budget surplus — in the middle of the pandemic — should be put to good use.

A homeless man takes food from a trash can in Los Angeles’ Skid Row area, home to the nation’s largest concentration of homeless people. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

(CN) — Mayors from the 13 largest cities in the Golden State called on Governor Gavin Newsom and state legislators Thursday to spend a historic $20 billion over five years to end and prevent homelessness.

The Big City Mayors coalition includes Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and nine others. Led by Liccardo, the coalition wants Newsom to allocate $4 billion a year in a five-year investment to address homelessness during this year’s budget cycle.

If passed by the Legislature and signed by Newsom, the $20 billion investment would be the largest ever investment to end homelessness in the U.S. and could build over 100,000 homes for unhoused Californians.

California is home to more than 25% of unhoused people in the United States.

Emboldened by the “Build Back Boldly” budget proposal introduced this month by Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins and Senate budget chair Nancy Skinner calling for the $20 billion investment to address homelessness in California, Assembly Chair Phil Ting on Wednesday introduced a revised budget blueprint calling for the same investment.

The budget proposals come after the state saw what could end up being a $20 billion budget surplus this year due to boosted state tax revenue. That surplus, coupled with $26 billion in federal money from the American Rescue Plan means the state is well-positioned to make a “once in a lifetime” investment in homelessness, Liccardo said during a virtual press conference Thursday.

“We need to treat homelessness like the crisis it is,” Liccardo said. “We believe the budget surplus will be something like $40 billion. Spending half of a surplus on the biggest problem to face California and make it last half a decade is money well spent.”

The coalition emphasized during the press conference Thursday they want state leaders to prioritize ongoing flexible investments in local cities to scale up programs and solutions proven to help curb homelessness and get people into permanent housing.

But the budgetary ask comes months after California State Auditor Elaine Howle found the state’s approach to solving homelessness is as ineffective as it is expensive.

Her report noted nine state agencies administer and oversee 41 different programs to provide funding to mitigate homelessness in California, but there is no single oversight entity monitoring its programs or a statewide strategy or plan.

The mayors’ request also comes after a federal judge ordered LA — the state’s largest city — to house homeless people living in a 50-square block, open-air encampment known as Skid Row, by October.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter found the city and county had consistently squandered opportunities to solve homelessness. He ordered officials to house unaccompanied women and children living on Skid Row within 90 days, entire families within 120 days and all other homeless people living there within 180 days.

City attorneys appealed the order — which also required the city and county to deposit $1 billion in an impound account — but Carter refused to stay his preliminary injunction.

On Wednesday, the county asked the Ninth Circuit for an emergency pause of Carter’s preliminary injunction pending their appeal.

During the press conference Thursday, Garcetti said the court order “came out of nowhere, quite frankly” as the city had already been in settlement talks with LA Alliance for Human Rights, a nonprofit made up of business owners, developers and formerly homeless LA residents who filed the lawsuit to address what they characterized as inaction by government leaders.

“We always welcome helpful work from the judiciary but I certainly don’t want to see anything — just like what we’re advocating here — that adds layers, or friction or slows a single thing down,” Garcetti said.

Lawmakers will meet in May to take up Newsom’s revised budget proposal before enacting the final 2021-22 California budget in June.

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