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Newsom says state is on track to reduce homelessness by 15%

After criticizing local officials for failing to adequately address California’s pernicious homelessness problem, Governor Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that the state is on track to reduce the number of people without shelter by an ambitious 15% in two years and pledged to provide 1,200 tiny houses to help achieve that goal.

The announcement kicked off Newsom’s atypical State of the State tour of California, which replaces a speech outlining his political agenda that governors traditionally deliver annually to the state Legislature on Capitol Hill. Newsom, who doesn’t like to read teleprompters because of his dyslexia, will give his speech this year and intends to make policy announcements at stops in Sacramento, the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego over the weekend. .

Three years and weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic forced a state of emergency, Newsom devoted his entire speech to homelessness and his commitment to end it. Newsom called the crisis an embarrassment to California and said it was his “vocation” to alleviate that human misery.

Since then, the numbers have only increased.

California is now home to more than 171,000 homeless, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, an increase of 6.2% since 2020. Approximately 67%, or more than 115,000 people, are homeless, meaning they are living on the streets. That’s despite Newsom’s attention to the issue, the roughly $15 billion he has devoted to the issue since the start of the pandemic, and new housing programs that have housed thousands of Californians.

During his first tour stop in Sacramento, Newsom acknowledged “how angry we are as Californians at what is happening on the streets and sidewalks of our state.”

But he said the state has “progressed” on the ambition to solve its biggest challenge, starting with a goal of reducing the most visible homeless population by 15%.

“It’s a new day,” he said. “The new energy demands new expectations, new results.”

In the fall, Newsom cracked down on what he called a lack of accountability on the part of local governments to aggressively address the problem and called for greater urgency on homelessness.

For starters, he symbolically threw out the plans that cities and counties submitted to receive state funding. Housing, Assistance and Homeless Prevention (HHAP) Grant Programthat funnels hundreds of millions of dollars each year to local jurisdictions.

Plans vary by community, based on homeless populations and resources needed in the area. But taken together, those plans had projected a 2% reduction in homeless statewidea number that Newsom had rejected as inadequate.

Newsom halted state funding, summoned local officials in Sacramento and asked them to sign a pledge that promised bolder goals for this year’s funding round. The revised plans project a 15% reduction in homelessness by 2025. Although it’s a bolder goal than last year, that means tens of thousands of Californians will remain homeless.

The state has allocated almost $3 billion for HHAP so far, and Newsom has proposed an additional $1 billion in next year’s budget for a fifth round of funding.

Newsom also said he will provide 1,200 tiny houses to jurisdictions across the state, including 500 in Los Angeles, 150 in San Diego County, 200 in San Jose and 350 in Sacramento, to be used as a temporary housing option for people leaving the streets immediately. . He has called in the National Guard to help deliver the units.

The tiny houses will be added to a list of other housing initiatives Newsom has implemented during his tenure, including his signature. home key programborn out of the pandemic by the urgency to quickly house the homeless and vulnerable in hotels and motels.

Homekey has evolved into a comprehensive program for the state to acquire and redevelop these sites into more permanent and interim housing options for the homeless. The program has created 12,774 new homes so far with $2.7 billion in funding, according to the California Agency for Housing, Consumer and Business Services.

A similar initiative, Project Roomkey, was created as a temporary shelter option during the pandemic and has since served more than 61,000 people, according to the California Department of Social Services.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a strong supporter of Newsom, said the tiny houses would be a welcome addition to shelter options for those currently living on the streets.

Steinberg said he would like to place Sacramento’s portion of tiny houses on surplus land at Cal Expo, where the state fair is held each year and where Newsom kicked off his tour and made his announcement against a backdrop of lined up tiny houses. in a large showroom.

The model tiny houses were set up with some of the comforts of home, including small desks and bunk beds made from blankets and teddy bears.

“It’s another really important contribution and investment,” Steinberg said.

Alluding to criticism that 1,200 tiny houses will do little to solve a crisis out of control, Newsom said the state had to “provide more options.”

“The urgency of the moment requires that one of the tools, in terms of our strategy, is to immediately address the anxiety…of being able to get someone off the street and have a place to go,” he said.

Still, others argued that further investment was needed to provide permanent housing options and mental health and substance abuse treatment programs.

“I think housing has to be part of the solution. But 1,200 tiny houses, when we have 115,000 homeless homeless in our state, I think that probably won’t make a big dent,” said Assemblyman Josh Hoover (R-Folsom). “I think this is another flashy ad that I’m skeptical will get any real results.”

Citing a lack of “a comprehensive homelessness plan with clear lines of responsibility and accountability,” California counties released a proposal this week to work with the state and cities to develop a plan to reduce homelessness. of housing.

“All levels of government are doing everything they can to advance homelessness,” said Graham Knaus, executive director of the California State Assn. of Counties. “But it’s also true that we don’t have a real system to address homelessness in California, and until we do, our progress will always be much more limited than it should be.”

The proposal calls for legislative and regulatory changes that define the roles of cities and counties in relation to shelters, supportive housing, and encampments, and in turn create more accountability. The association is also seeking continued funding to maintain the programs, among other policy changes.

“In every major policy area that is a state priority, except for homelessness, there is clarity about who does what and how accountability ties into that,” Knaus said. “It’s just not true around homelessness.”

Chione Flegal, executive director of Housing California, also called for “mutual accountability” in resolving homelessness.

Flegal’s organization is working on legislation introduced this year by Assemblywoman Luz Rivas (D-Arleta) to strengthen the HHAP program and ensure that funding is tied to tangible results.

“We certainly share the view that everyone needs to take this seriously and scale up what they’re doing,” Flegal said, “and the state is not exempt from that.”

Sacramento bureau chief Laurel Rosenhall contributed to this report.