Newsom Vows Relief for Homeless Californians

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks with Michelle Padilla, center, and Tod Lipka, right, about his revised state budget proposal that would boost funds for mental health services and emergency shelters for the homeless. (Martin Macias Jr./CNS)

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (CN) – With a May 1 deadline to submit state budget revisions rapidly approaching, California Governor Gavin Newsom promised Southern California officials and health service providers Tuesday that the state could financially back their efforts to tackle homelessness.

Newsom, elected in November 2018, has toured the state in recent months meeting with Californians concerned about the Golden State’s housing affordability and homelessness crises.

A 2018 count found that at least 130,000 Californians were homeless – nearly a quarter of the national total, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, which also found that more than 20% of the state’s 40 million residents live in poverty.

Newsom proposed a state budget in February that includes $500 million for cities to build emergency shelters or supportive housing for the homeless and another $100 million for health services.

The governor also proposed doling out nearly $2.5 billion of the state’s $21 billion in reserves to cities that make efforts to address a statewide shortage of more than 3.5 million housing units.

Newsom said cities that expand mental health services and job programs for the homeless could access newly-available funds in the state budget.

“I’m looking for the novel, for the innovation and for the breakthrough,” Newsom said at the Arrowhead McKee Family Health Center in San Bernardino Tuesday.

“We’ll have your back,” he added. “We’re going to provide an unprecedented amount of resources and we’re here for the long haul.”

Newsom, who said California has never had a homelessness strategy, was particularly interested in the county’s proposal to purchase or repurpose certain hotels or motels for housing for the homeless.

“This is a big idea,” Newsom said. “This is built stock that exists all throughout the state. A lot of these motels are situated in communities, not out of sight, out of mind.”

In light of California’s high construction costs, Newsom said the proposal to convert motels into housing quickly, at a rate of about $180,000 per unit, is “an extraordinary opportunity.”  

Officials across the state, including in Los Angeles, have backed that idea, which has also received support from Atiya Willis, a formerly homeless U.S. Army veteran who participated in a roundtable discussion with Newsom Tuesday. Willis was medically discharged from the Army in 2014.

She found housing in nearby Rialto with support from Lighthouse, an organization that helps veterans find a place to live, told Courthouse News that converted motels have the potential to help people she knows who urgently need housing.

“I see a lot of [hotels and motels] in the county that could be converted into units that could support people,” Willis said. “We have to see each homeless person as a person and realize that these [converted units] can take adverse behavior off the streets.”

Karyn Young-Lowe, CEO of Lighthouse, told Newsom his budget should boost funding for mental health services and programs that provide immediate housing to the homeless, but also warned that the issues are complex.

“It’s not just putting someone in home,” Young-Lowe said. “We’re looking at someone as a whole person and saying, ‘You know what, we’re going connect you with services and help connect you with stable housing and ensure that they remain stably housed.’”

Tod Lipka, CEO of housing advocacy group Step Up on Second, said both the state and local service providers share the blame for the rise in the homeless population.

“It was our fault to not provide the correct intervention at the right time,” Lipka said. “It’s these individuals who most need our empathy and support and embrace our community.”

Newsom must submit his revised state budget proposal by May 1, before the Legislature votes on it this summer.

One of the other issues Newsom said he would boost funding for in his budget is job opportunities for the homeless.

Michelle Padilla told reporters at the meeting that holding down a job at a local Stater Bros. Market helped her find stability after years of living with substance abuse problems and homelessness.

“That is self sufficiency, that’s a sustainable mindset, not a dependency mindset,” Newsom said. “Frankly, that was missing from my budget. But that doesn’t have to be the case on May 1st.”

Newsom announced at the meeting that he would launch a statewide advisory group on homelessness comprised of elected officials from across the state and experts on housing.

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