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California mayors demand $2 billion to tackle homelessness

Representing more than a quarter of the state’s 40 million residents, the California Big City Mayors group urge a permanent fund to combat homelessness.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Mayors from California’s 13 largest cities urged lawmakers Wednesday to approve more than $2 billion in ongoing funding to address the state’s homelessness crisis.

Representing cities with more than a quarter of the state’s 40 million residents, the California Big City Mayors group includes the mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento. Since 2018, California has provided Homelessness Housing, Assistance and Prevention grants, which cities build their homeless services strategies around. The grants are awarded on the condition that each local government has a plan approved by the state that reduces the number of unsheltered homeless individuals and increases permanent housing.

The group's leader, San Diego mayor Todd Gloria, said in the briefing that the state's largest cities have served more than 120,000 people and created about 5,100 new homes through the Project Homekey program — a program to move people through transitional housing to permanent housing. 

Mayors from California cities speak to lawmakers in Sacramento, Calif. (Photo via California Big City Mayors)

“These programs are working,” Gloria said. “We are connecting tens of thousands of people to permanent housing every year. However, we acknowledge that it’s hard for Californians to see it, and that’s because we’re simply not keeping pace with the number of people growing newly homelessness.”

The mayors want to see every city follow their lead, and they want the state to double the housing resource grants to $2 billion — and to make the funding permanent. 

The mayors also want $1.5 billion put into Homekey to ensure that current applications can go through to 2,300 homes in process. They also want land-use waivers issued to help propel new housing projects stuck in red tape. 

Todd Gloria, foreground, addresses lawmakers in Sacramento, Calif. on May 17, 2023. (Photo via California Big City Mayors)

“California’s biggest cities have done our part — now we need every city, every county and every continuum of care to do their part as well,” Gloria said. 

Noting that Newsom has emphasized keeping accountability for cities that use state funding, the group also presented an accountability framework they say will ensure that all funding delivers promised results.

LA Mayor Karen Bass said that when she was elected this past November, 40,000 Los Angeles residents were unhoused — nearly 20% of the state’s homeless population. She declared a state of emergency, and more than 4,000 have gotten shelter since.

“While the budget this year must be difficult, the need for housing interventions and services must remain a top priority,” Bass said. 

San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan agreed that emergency interim housing and in-patient care for addiction and mental illness are in dire need of funding. 

“We need to break out of this false dichotomy, this binary that says housing is good, shelter is bad and there are only two solutions,” he said. 

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said that with more than 5,000 unhoused people in Oakland, and recently closing the state’s largest encampment at Wood Street, the issue is personal for her. 

“As someone who was once homeless as a single mother of her son, I understand what it is like to seek permanent housing,” Thao said. “I had to sleep in my vehicle, but mind you I was blessed to even have a vehicle.

"The access to safe, permanent housing should not be seen as the American dream. It should be seen as the American right. It should be seen as a basic necessity.”

Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer said that since 2021, more than 4,000 unhoused people in his city have received shelter services. More than half of those are transitioning into permanent housing, resulting in a 13% reduction in unsheltered people between 2020-2022. He said Project Homekey has been a major resource to accomplish this. 

“Money alone won’t solve the problem,” Dyer said. “We have to have good partnerships, we have to have good plans, and we have to have more beds if we’re going to be successful.”

With state lawmakers pressed to pass next year’s budget by June 15 while staring down a revenue shortfall of nearly $32 billion, the timing is tenuous. 

The independent nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office warned that Newsom’s revised $306 billion budget proposal contains too much spending. The analyst advised the Legislature to reject $3.1 billion in new discretionary spending proposals without prejudice, unless the proposals address immediate safety or health issues. 

Newsom promised that the revised budget maintains a $15.3 billion homeless package, although his January budget contained $3 billion in flexible aid to local governments and $3 billion in Project Homekey funding. He pulled the $1 billion homelessness fund last November after blasting cities for a lack of "aggressive" planning on how to use state funding to combat homelessness

The governor's deputy communications director Daniel Lopez said that Newsom met with the group Wednesday.

"The bulk of the meeting centered on the governor's efforts to modernize the Mental Health Services Act, which would dedicate at least $1 billion annually for housing, creating a permanent source of funding for local governments to address the needs of people with behavioral health issues who are homeless and living in encampments," Lopez said.

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