From CalMatters’ homelessness policy reporter Marisa Kendall
California cities want more money to tackle homelessness.
That was the main takeaway from a rally Wednesday where about 100 city officials made a big ask of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration and the Legislature: They want $3 billion a year in guaranteed homelessness funding from the state.
That could be a tough sell this year, as the state is facing a $22.5 billion to $25 billion deficit that will require some belt-tightening. But gathered under the sun in the state Capitol Park, holding signs that read “Real progress starts local #InvestInCities,” the city representatives demanded that lawmakers prioritize homelessness in this year’s budget.
It’s the latest sign of the homelessness crisis causing tension between local leaders and the state — recently Newsom briefly withheld $1 billion in funding from cities and counties because he said they weren’t doing enough.
- Erica Stewart, mayor of San Luis Obispo: “We believe every single person deserves housing. The cities alone are not going to be able to do this forever. We can’t do it. But we are your partners in action…We want the state Legislature and the governor to act and provide permanent, long-term, stable, on-going funding.”
Newsom poured unprecedented sums of money into homelessness during the pandemic, including $15 billion over the past two years. But critics complained that because most of that was in one-time grants, it’s been difficult for cities, counties and nonprofits to build the kind of multi-year programs that could actually make a dent in the crisis. Guaranteeing $3 billion a year for homelessness would be a shift in strategy by Sacramento.
Though 84% of California cities have launched programs to address homelessness, most are struggling to fund them, according to a survey of 189 cities released by the League of California Cities, which held a joint conference on homelessness Wednesday with the California State Association of Counties. Of the cities surveyed, 87% said they have concerns about financing their homelessness programs long-term, and 79% said they have used their general fund to address the crisis since fiscal year 2018-2019.
- Carolyn Coleman, executive director and CEO of the League of California Cities: “The demand for housing and services are outpacing their efforts alone, straining capacity and draining resources for all the essential services that our cities provide.”
Speaking of homelessness: Marisa also reports on the increasingly tricky bind lawmakers find themselves in when it comes to clearing homeless encampments. Though Democrats recently quashed Republican-backed bills that would make it illegal for unhoused people to settle near certain areas statewide, more and more cities led by Democrats are passing local ordinances cracking down on illegal camping.
Frustrated voters concerned with health and safety want these encampments gone. But displacing unhoused communities is morally and logistically complicated. Advocates argue that the process is traumatizing to individuals, and liberal lawmakers don’t want to be perceived as criminalizing homelessness.
But with scarce affordable housing options available in California, there is no clear solution. As one UC Berkeley professor studying homelessness told Marisa: With nowhere to go, the people shuffled away from one area to the next often become “a problem for another neighborhood.”
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