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Newsom Will Mobilize National Guard to Deliver 1,200 Tiny Homes to Address Homelessness Crisis

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head shot of Gov. Gavin Newsom
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday also announced an updated goal to reduce homelessness by 15% statewide by 2025. (Aryk Copley/KQED)

Gov. Gavin Newsom is calling on the California National Guard to help deliver 1,200 small homes for people experiencing homelessness across the state. Newsom's latest push to address the state’s sprawling homelessness crisis also will provide nearly $1 billion to California cities to help them address unsheltered homelessness and encampments.

As a candidate for governor, Newsom vowed to eliminate chronic homelessness if elected. But under his watch, the number of Californians living on the streets, in shelters or in cars has grown from around 130,000 in 2018 to more than 171,000 last year (PDF), according to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The announcement also comes with an updated goal to reduce homelessness by 15% statewide by 2025.

“In California, we are using every tool in our toolbox — including the largest-ever deployment of small homes in the state — to move people out of encampments and into housing,” Newsom said in a press release. “We are tackling this issue at the root of the problem by addressing the need to create more housing, faster in California.”

The California National Guard will assist with preparing and delivering the small homes, which were purchased by the state, to Los Angeles (500 units), San Diego (150), San José (200) and Sacramento (350).

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The state is expected to begin installing the small homes by fall of this year. Once delivered, local governments will operate, maintain and direct the flow of unhoused people to the homes and services.

The new statewide target comes after the governor briefly froze $1 billion in homelessness funding for cities and counties last November after his administration deemed local plans to bring down homelessness by only 2% by 2024 unacceptable. Local leaders strongly criticized the decision, saying it was counterproductive and that they were given no warning or guidance about how to amend their plans to secure the funding.

“As a state, we are failing to meet the urgency of this moment,” Newsom said last November. “At this pace, it would take decades to significantly curb homelessness in California. This approach is simply unacceptable.”

Following a summit with over 100 mayors two weeks after the announcement to freeze funding, the governor reversed course, releasing the money with the condition that jurisdictions commit to more aggressive plans to reduce street homelessness in the future.

Since 2019, the state has funneled more than $2 billion in flexible spending to local agencies to reduce homelessness through the Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention Program, known as HHAP. Last year was the first time cities and counties had to submit action plans to get funding through the program.

This year, local governments have collectively updated their homelessness plans to reduce homelessness by 15% statewide over the next two years. Newsom plans to release the $1 billion in funding to cities and counties with the updated goals as part of the fourth round of the HHAP program.

Small homes have grown popular in recent years as one tool to address homelessness.

“Tiny homes are one of the top strategies for getting people out of homelessness. We need to immediately get people off the streets,” said Candice Elder, a community advocate and executive director of the East Oakland Collective. “The reality is it takes — for the clients that we have worked with — it has taken about over seven years to get them into permanent housing — into real apartments, that is.”

San Francisco currently operates a 70-unit small home village at 33 Gough, a project that began during the pandemic. The project offers a dwelling for people who are seeking alternatives to tent encampments or congregate shelters.

Elder was shocked, however, that cities like Oakland — which opened its first tiny home village in 2017, along with another on city-owned land near Lake Merritt in 2021 — was not on the governor’s list of cities that would receive additional homes.

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“I am astonished to learn that the governor did not designate any tiny homes in Oakland, Berkeley or San Francisco,” said Elder. “We know 1,200 homes spread across the state is not enough whatsoever, not even though they may scratch the surface.”

Carolyn Coleman, executive director of the League of California Cities, was similarly surprised by the short list of cities that will receive the homes. But, if the effort is successful in those places, she said, it could provide a template others could replicate.

“I would hope that the governor and his folks have a strategy that they'll share with us about why they picked those places with those numbers,” Coleman told KQED. “Maybe at the end of the day, we can learn from those cities and examples to scale and use in communities more broadly.”

The mayors of Sacramento and San José, along with other pro-housing state leaders, applauded the governor's investment on Thursday during a press conference where Newsom toured some of the tiny homes.

“Like most cities, San José is grappling with an immense homeless crisis. We all agree building more affordable housing is the long-term solution ... but as we build up our housing stock and rebuild our mental health system, we have an obligation to address the enormous suffering we see on our streets every day,” said San José Mayor Matt Mahan.

He added that the city has a goal of making 1,000 new placements for unhoused residents this year. “The governor’s announcement will help us get there,” Mahan said.

But some, like Elder, expressed concerns over the involvement of the state’s National Guard for such a sensitive issue.

“We are talking about a highly, really traumatized, impacted population. Sending the National Guard in to deliver these homes seems kind of a bit much and actually a little bit scary,” Elder told KQED. “I'm assuming there's regular people, even regular truckers that could just bring the tiny homes in. So what message are they trying to send?”

Homelessness experts say the small homes, which are typically smaller than 400 square feet, should be just one component of a multipronged approach to reducing homelessness.

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“The crisis of homelessness will never be solved without first solving the crisis of housing — the two issues are inextricably linked,” Newsom said.

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