California Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom agreed to release state homelessness funding amounting to $1 billion after hastily putting a pause on the release earlier in the month. Local governments must agree to step up the aggressiveness of plans moving forward while reducing the number of unhoused individuals in the state.
Newsome said his Friday meeting with around 100 mayors and local officials, both in person and virtually, was productive, with many leaders agreeing to step up goals and do what needs to be done to decrease homelessness statewide.
“It was nice to hear their progress. And it was nice to hear their recognition that we have to get to another level,” Newsom told reporters after the meeting. “What I want to see is what everybody wants to see: the streets of California cleaned up. We want to see encampments cleaned up; we want to see people housed.”
Newsom recently easily won reelection in the midterms. He is expected to show reductions in the growing number of individuals experiencing homelessness. The state is seeing an explosion of people camping out on city sidewalks and under freeway overpasses.
The governor of the nation’s most populous state announced two weeks ago that he would withhold the $1 billion until counties and cities make more robust plans. He also called the plans submitted “simply unacceptable” as they would only reduce the state’s homeless population by 2% in the next four years.
County officials and mayors — many Democrats — and low-income housing advocates are pushing back against the governor’s efforts to withhold funding. They believe it is counterproductive to hold money needed for outreach workers, shelter beds, and other services for homeless individuals. The officials plead with Newsom for a more precise direction and ongoing, guaranteed funding to craft more ambitious plans.
Newsom touts record on homelessness
Newsom recently touted the record amount of money his administration has directed to homelessness and housing, including a commitment by lawmakers in the state to spend $15.3 billion in the next three years. While the money has kept tens of thousands of people housed, the governor also acknowledged that people do not see results on the streets.
The governor said that while he has no plans to turn his back on local governments, “finding new dedicated money as we enter into what could be a recession with the headwinds, one has to be sober about that — just as they’re sober about that with their budgets.”
Democrat Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg defended Newsom’s actions, saying following the meeting that he understood the governor’s need to push local governments to take action. Steinberg praised Newsom for his leadership on the issue — converting motels and hotels into homes to new mental health courts, which would treat people with serious mental health conditions like schizophrenia. However, not all attendees understood the purpose of the meeting.
Sam Liccardo, San Jose Mayor, joined the meeting virtually and said there were too many people and too little room for “forthright, constructive dialogue.” Liccardo said he and other mayors were notified days ago that the governor plans to release the money if new plans are submitted.
Liccardo said the governor seems to be on a different page than the state’s housing department, which worked with San Jose and other cities to create original plans. “There seems to be countervailing notions about what is required.”
The California State Association of Counties also criticized Newsom’s plans. “We can’t fix an ongoing crisis with one-time commitments. Progress requires clear state, county, and city roles aligned with sustainable, equitable funding. We need to get out of our own way and work together,” said the association’s executive director, that represents the state’s 58 counties, Graham Knaus.
California had an estimated 161,000 homeless individuals in 2020, which is expected to continue to increase. Homeless advocates say they cannot keep up with the number of unhoused individuals.
The Newsom administration has also been cracking down on cities and counties that are reluctant to build more affordable housing, with many saying they don’t want neighborhood changes and the congestion that comes with more people.