Gov. Gavin Newsom signed seven pieces of legislation Sept. 29 as part of a larger $22 billion package of California laws meant to address homelessness, mental health services and housing affordability.
The legislation seeks to strengthen state services for California’s ever-increasing homeless population, while also implementing a variety of new data mandates and oversight protocols to ensure that the money is spent effectively, according to a press release from Newsom’s office.
One bill, AB 977, mandates more thorough data collection in order to increase the oversight of homelessness programs that are funded by the state. Authored by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, who hails from Berkeley and campus alumnus, AB 977 calls for the Homelessness Coordinating and Financing Council to use this data to ensure that service providers are adhering to relevant laws.
“We expect that the available data will help local and state stakeholders prioritize the programs that are proving to be most effective,” said Abram Diaz, Gabriel’s legislative director, in an email. “The law will help policymakers and the general public to track the effectiveness of different approaches and programs; for smaller cities like Berkeley, this information will ostensibly help identify the most effective programs and therefore tailor local approaches to helping homeless residents.
Other pieces of legislation included in the package allocate more money to behavioral health services, which help individuals find housing and strengthen preventative measures to avoid homelessness in the first place.
Members of the Berkeley community responded with optimism to this legislation.
“It appears that they’re finally moving towards a housing-first kind of priority,” said Lisa Teague, a member of the People’s Park Committee. “This is something everyone’s been pushing for because it’s what works: housing people and letting them stabilize, and then the results are better.”
The package of legislation focuses more on helping individuals experiencing homelessness than taking a more punitive approach. Many bills exemplify a focus on housing affordability and behavioral health services.
Still, advocates for homeless individuals remain skeptical about the effectiveness of some state-funded homelessness programs, even with added mandates intended to increase oversight and accountability.
“I would hope that cities, counties and regions talk to the people on the ground as they engage in this process,” Teague said. “As this money is distributed, one of those things that’s going to make the money well spent is increased communication with advocates and activists.”