California mayors must improve plans to fight homelessness


() — California Gov. Gavin Newsom is holding back money to fight homelessness unless local mayors come up with better plans.

The unhoused population in California increased by about 22,000 during the pandemic. Newsom said local authorities would need to submit better plans to fight homelessness to get their cut of a $1 billion special grant to combat the problem.

Newsom announced two weeks ago that he would withhold $1 billion in spending until cities and counties came up with more robust plans, calling submitted plans “simply unacceptable” as they would collectively reduce the state’s homeless population by just 2% over the next four years.

California’s homeless population is estimated to be around 161,000 people, though that number is likely too low. Homelessness is calculated using what’s called a point in time count, which requires volunteers to go out and count people. Those counts are often lower than reality.

California’s homeless crisis is one of the worst in the country. Of the top 10 cities with the highest homeless population, six are in California: Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Ana.

Newsom’s efforts to combat homelessness have included things like converting motels into housing and setting up special courts for those with severe mental health issues.

Not all mayors were happy with Newsom’s demands.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who joined virtually, said there were too many people and little room for “forthright, constructive dialogue.” He and other mayors were told several days ago that Newsom planned to release the money if they submitted new plans.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said “creating more hoops for local governments to jump through without any clear explanation of what’s required.”

Meanwhile, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti criticized Newsom for bogging the process down with politics.

“Californians deserve a government that works in unison to bring urgency to this crisis. Lives are on the line and we can’t afford for this work to get mired in more politics and bureaucracy,” he said.

Broadly, the governor seemed to be on a different page than the state housing department, which worked with San Jose and other cities on their original plans, said Liccardo, also a Democrat.

“There seems to be countervailing notions about what is required,” he said.

The state has already distributed $1.5 billion in funding, and applications for the next round are coming due in days.

Newsom won’t release that money unless those governments pledge “to be more aggressive across the board,” said Erin Mellon, spokesperson for the governor’s office. Plans are due in two weeks.

Applicants also must agree to implement as many best practices as possible, including more efficient methods of getting people into housing and streamlining the building of more homes for poor and extremely poor households.

The Newsom administration is also cracking down on California cities and counties reluctant to build more housing, including affordable housing, with many saying they don’t want the congestion and neighborhood changes that come with more people.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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