Newsom Forms Task for to Address Homelessness Crisis

Tents that serve as shelter for homeless people dot the sidewalks in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. (Nicholas Iovino/CNS)

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – California Governor Gavin Newsom appointed two veteran state politicians Tuesday to lead a new homelessness group that will work with cities to confront what he calls the state’s most “defining” issue.  

From a former hotel in downtown Oakland that now temporarily houses hundreds of people, Newsom called California’s homelessness crisis a “national disgrace” and promised his administration would seek new solutions to getting people off the streets. Newsom, former mayor of San Francisco, noted homelessness has moved from coastal cities to the state’s interior and has called on lawmakers to allocate $1 billion in the next state budget to support overburdened local governments.

“Homelessness is not Santa Monica, it’s not San Jose, it’s not San Francisco, it’s not Los Angeles and it’s not Oakland any longer; this is the issue that ultimately defines our failure as a society,” Newsom told reporters at the Henry Robinson Multi-Service Center.

Newsom tapped former state senator and current Sacramento mayor Darrell Steinberg to pair with former state senator and current Los Angeles County supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to chair his Homeless and Supportive Housing Advisory Task Force. The task force is supposed to travel the Golden State and meet with local governments to figure out a way to stem the mounting homeless population.

Steinberg said he was looking forward to working with Ridley-Thomas and the Newsom administration on ways to prevent people from “slipping into homelessness.”

“The growing problem of homelessness is nothing less than a humanitarian, public health, safety and economic crisis facing California,” Steinberg said.

Newsom’s announcement comes days after a report found the number of homeless people in Alameda County has grown 43% over the last two years, and by 31% in nearby Santa Clara County. Local politicians reacted to the report by reiterating more taxpayer dollars will be needed to implement homelessness solutions.  

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf thanked Newsom, Steinberg and Ridley-Thomas for introducing the homelessness task force in her city.

“We cannot accept these levels of human suffering and indignity,” Schaaf said of Californians sleeping in cars and on city streets. “I want to appreciate the sense of urgency and compassion that Gov. Newsom brings to this issue.”

Along with the task force, Newsom named psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dr. Tom Insel to study new strategies to address mental health issues. The new positions are not cabinet-level and the task force will submit at least one annual report to Newsom, along with scheduled roundtables at cities across California. 

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