CA Gov. Newsom unveils major plan to combat homelessness

Photo of Gavin Newsom
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California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order Wednesday, implementing a comprehensive strategy to address California’s growing homelessness issue and previewing his 2020-21 budget proposal with more than $1 billion dedicated to the effort.

The order requires state agencies to take immediate action to identify state-owned properties that will be used by local jurisdictions to provide homeless individuals with housing accommodations and access to health services. The order also established the California Access to Housing and Services Fund, which includes both taxpayer dollars and donations from the private sector to pay for affordable housing, rental and operating subsidies, as well as stabilizing board and care homes.

“Californians are demanding that all levels of government – federal, state and local – do more to get people off the streets and into services,” Newsom said in a press release. “That’s why we’re using every tool in the toolbox – from proposing a massive new infusion of state dollars in the budget that goes directly to homeless individuals’ emergency housing and treatment programs, to building short-term emergency housing on vacant state-owned land.”

As part of the order, the California Department of General Services has been tasked with finding unused state land that can immediately be made available for counties, cities and nonprofit organizations to use for emergency shelters. Caltrans will also assess properties adjacent to highways and state roads while other state agencies examine decommissioned hospitals, medical facilities and fairgrounds that can also be repurposed as shelter areas.

Modular tent structures and 100 camp trailers from a state fleet will also be made available by state agencies to serve as temporary shelters and to deliver health and social services to homeless individuals.

“I applaud Governor Newsom for making homelessness a priority and for his Executive Order. This action recognizes that homelessness is an emergency that requires swift and bold action,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín in a statement. “The City of Berkeley will be seeking these new resources to provide additional shelter, sanitation and respite for those living on the streets.”

Acknowledging the effect that a lack of access to mental and physical health services has on California’s increasing homeless population, Newsom’s proposal also allocates $695 million — to be later matched with federal dollars — to reform MediCal by making it more responsive to the homeless population’s needs.

With a focus on addressing causal factors, the money will be used to increase access to support programs and reform the way that counties operate mental health services — more closely integrating them and making them more like physical health services.

Additionally, Newsom announced a statewide data-driven study to examine the root causes of homelessness, an effort to strengthen mental health parity laws to increase efficacy, and the creation of a state mental health task force to examine existing laws and policies to make state efforts more responsive to the homelessness crisis.

“It is absolutely invigorating to watch this guy use the full force of his office to push so much sheer good,” said City Councilmember Rigel Robinson in an email. We can and must end homelessness. With Sacramento’s help, that vision is a much more attainable reality. We will be advocating to ensure that Berkeley receives the support from this fund that we need — lives depend on it.”

Jake Souza is the lead city government reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @jsouza_dailycal.