Newsom Seeks $750M for Homeless Services and Shelter in Proposed Budget

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Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order to create a $750 million fund to address California's homelessness epidemic. (Agustin Paullier/AFP via Getty Images)

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced an executive order Wednesday to address California's homelessness epidemic by proposing a $750 million fund to pay for rent subsidies, help communities build more affordable housing and support boarding houses.

Newsom also directed the state to provide a slew of resources including travel trailers, vacant hospitals and state-owned land to provide temporary housing and services.

“The state of California is treating it as a real emergency – because it is one,” Newsom said in a statement.

Money for the fund, which needs to be approved by the state Legislature, would come from a one-time installment from the general fund. Newsom said he hoped ongoing contributions from private companies and philanthropists would help sustain it.

There are an estimated 151,278 homeless people in California, according to the latest federal count. That’s a 16.4% increase over the last year and the largest homeless population the state has seen since at least 2007. Driven by the spike in California, the nation’s homeless population increased by 2.7% this year, according to a federal government report.

In San Francisco, about 8,000 people were counted in the streets or in shelters, representing a 17% increase from 2017.

Newsom’s executive order asks state agencies, including Caltrans, to identify state-owned property that counties, cities and nonprofits can temporarily use to provide shelter and related health care and social services. The order directs his administration to identify some of the properties, so long as it doesn't delay the development of affordable housing.

“This builds on recent leases that Caltrans worked closely with local partners to execute — including the cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Stockton and San Diego,” Caltrans spokesperson Kyle Simerly said in a statement.

The agency said it would have more details in the coming days on how local partners will use Caltrans property on a short-term emergency basis to house homeless individuals.

Certain counties and cities could qualify to receive travel trailers and modular tent buildings. Vacant or decommissioned hospitals, clinics and fairgrounds are on the table as well, especially in areas where entire communities became homeless overnight in destructive wildfires. Also, a “strike team” is being formed to help local governments address homelessness on the streets.

That includes cities like Santa Rosa, where hundreds of displaced residents were housed during wildfire evacuations at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins supports the idea of using the space to house the homeless and has previously floated the idea of a sanctioned encampment at the fairgrounds.

“If we can house people there during a natural disaster, why can’t we house people who are currently homeless,” said Hopkins, whose district includes a mile-long homeless encampment along Santa Rosa's Joe Rodota Trail.

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The executive order come two days before Newsom is expected to release details of his proposed budget, which includes $695 million to expand Medi-Cal to pay for housing and supportive services for the chronically homeless. Programs such as recuperative care or navigation centers try to keep people from making repeat visits to emergency rooms or expensive health care clinics by offering housing and medical needs at home.

To address mental health, Newsom is proposing $24.6 million to start a six-year pilot program in three counties that would find housing in the community for people deemed incompetent to stand trial, instead of having them stay in state mental hospitals.

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Newsom said compassion for those who are homeless “isn’t allowing a person suffering a severe psychotic break or from a lethal substance abuse addiction to literally drift towards death on our streets and sidewalks.”

President Trump has dogged California and its Democratic leadership for its homelessness epidemic since his visit last spring and even threatened to impose tough policies if the state doesn't make significant improvements.

But Newsom isn’t taking all the responsibility for ending homelessness. He said local government leaders are “critical to implementing homeless solutions in their own communities.”

"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 emergency housing, mental health services, substance abuse treatment or all of the above,” Newsom said in the statement.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff applauded Newsom’s announcement, saying the new fund demonstrates that state and local priorities regarding homelessness are in agreement.

“We must do more than just shelter people,” said Schaff, who was appointed by Newsom to a state advisory group on homelessness in July. “We must prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place and we must get them permanently and securely housed.”

As part of his executive order, the state will develop accountability metrics that are tied to funding, which will measure whether local governments are making progress on getting people off the streets and into shelter. The governor’s office didn’t make clear what those metrics are in its press release.

KQED News' Erin Baldassari and The Associated Press contributed to this report.