SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – With residents, lawmakers and President Donald Trump clamoring for action on California’s worsening homelessness crisis, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a plan Wednesday to spend over $1 billion to connect people to housing and ordered agencies to build shelters on unused land.
As homelessness counts continue to spike on the West Coast and in California, Newsom said his administration will stock his upcoming budget proposal with over $1 billion to stem the crisis. In addition, the first-term governor signed an executive order that immediately makes 100 state-owned camp trailers available for temporary housing and requires local governments to develop goals and plans for moving people off the streets permanently.
“Californians are demanding that all levels of government – federal, state and local – do more to get people off the streets and into services – whether that’s housing, mental health services, substance abuse treatment or all of the above,” Newsom said in a statement.
Newsom’s order officially creates the California Access to Housing and Services Fund, which he will pitch to lawmakers and ask them to fund the hefty price tag later this week when he introduces his 2020-2021 budget proposal. To jumpstart the fund, Newsom will propose a $750 million one-time infusion from the state’s general fund that would be used to do things like help people pay rent and would go directly to local providers.
The actions come amid a growing Twitter war between Newsom and Trump over California’s surging homelessness rate. Trump took to Twitter on Christmas to accuse Newsom of doing a “really bad job taking care of the homeless population” and threaten federal intervention.
A recent federal report pegged California’s 2019 homeless population at 151,000, a 16% increase from 2018. While homelessness rates dropped in most states, they increased significantly in California and Oregon.
The results spurred U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to claim that the Golden State’s homelessness population has risen to “a crisis level.” He called for state and local leaders to act quickly.
Newsom is also under pressure at home, as indicated by a recent Public Policy Institute of California poll that found 63% of likely voters are very concerned about homelessness. An overwhelming majority (70%) also said they support policies that would require local governments to construct more shelter beds.
While Newsom will have to convince the Democrat-controlled Legislature to approve the new spending during budget negotiations over the next several months, other parts of his plan will go into effect immediately. His initial budget proposal is due Friday and the final version must be approved by June 15.
Under Newsom’s executive order, the Department of General Services will select and divvy up vacant state lands to be used by counties, cities and nonprofits for emergency housing. Other state agencies will be tasked with identifying fairgrounds, hospitals and land near highways that could be converted into temporary shelters. The sweeping plan also calls for a “Root Causes of California Homelessness Study” and a state crisis team that will help local agencies find people experiencing homelessness and get them social services and housing.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn applauded Wednesday’s announcement.
“People are dying on our streets and we need to use every local, state and federal resource available to help people get indoors,” Hahn tweeted.
Though voters have approved billions in bonds for affordable housing and improved mental health services in recent years, homelessness continues to vex state and local officials. Both Newsom and his predecessor Jerry Brown have pulled from the state’s rosy reserves to boost efforts in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, but the Golden State remains the epicenter of the country’s homelessness problem.
In 2019, Newsom kicked off his first year in office by announcing he wasn’t “playing small ball” on housing and eventually convinced the Legislature to spend $1.75 billion for housing production and $650 million for homelessness programs. He then signed a flurry of homelessness bills and has pressed the Trump administration for federal housing vouchers and other funding.
This year, the Democrat wants to reform and expand the state’s low-income health care program to assist health care providers and counties provide more mental health and housing assistance services. By spring, Newsom’s office says it will additionally release plans to transform Proposition 63, a voter-approved tax on millionaires that funds mental health services.
Newsom said he crafted the various proposals with the help of his main homelessness advisers – Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
“Thank you, Gavin Newsom for continuing to make addressing our crisis of homelessness a top priority,” Steinberg tweeted. “Government at all levels must do whatever is necessary to house the 90,000 people living outdoors.”
Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, a Los Angeles Democrat and chair of the Select Committee on Los Angeles County Homelessness, praised Newsom’s actions and budget proposal.
“Newsom’s 2020 budget isn’t holding back any punches and is treating homelessness like the humanitarian crisis it is,” Santiago said in a statement. “People are frustrated and want to see results now. As the representative of Skid Row, I’m ready to double down on our efforts to combat this crisis with a sense of urgency and I look forward to working with the governor and my colleagues to deliver more solutions.”
Newsom’s announcement also drew reaction from the state’s minority party. Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, vice chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, said he was pleased that Newsom was “taking urgent action” but added that lawmakers must solve what he believes is the core of the problem: housing affordability and high cost of living.
“Both of these problems have their roots in oppressive state government policies, and neither will be solved until we realize that addressing the issue of homelessness requires ensuring that everyone can afford a home rather than simply moving people into shelters,” Obernolte said in an email.
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