California Governor Gavin Newsom is signing an executive order Wednesday creating a new fund that will provide rent assistance to homeless people and fund emergency shelters throughout the state.
Ahead of the release of his annual budget later this week, Newsom is planning to sign the order to create the new fund and set aside $750 million of taxpayer dollars for it — and the fund will also be able to accept money from philanthropic organizations and donations from the private sector. Additionally, as the Chronicle reports, the order directs cities and counties to identify vacant properties where emergency shelters can built, and it sets up a system for tracking how well local municipalities are doing at moving people off of the streets.
"Californians have lots of compassion for those among us who are living without shelter,” Newsom said in a statement. “But we also know what compassion isn’t. Compassion isn’t allowing a person suffering a severe psychotic break or from a lethal substance abuse addiction to literally drift towards death on our streets and sidewalks."
Other details of Newsom's plan include the creation of a multi-agency "strike team" that will help local governments cope with the homelessness epidemic, and an initiative to provide 100 travel trailers and modular tent structures to "cities and counties that meet certain criteria," as the Associated Press reports.
Vacant properties where Newsom suggests shelters should be built include things like fairgrounds, land set aside for future affordable housing construction, decommissioned hospitals, and lands beside freeways and off-ramps that often end up being home to homeless encampments. One prime example would be the surface parking lot owned by the Port of San Francisco where the city recently completed a homeless Navigation Center, using temporary tent structures that will only stand for two or three years.
While Newsom can create the homeless fund by executive order, allocation of the taxpayer funding for the fund will still face Legislature approval along with the rest of his budget. As the AP notes, the $750 million figure is $100 million above the $650 million allocation made in last year's state budget for homeless rental assistance and affordable housing.
Mental illness is also being addressed in the new budget, and Newsom proposes funding a study of mental illness as a root cause of homelessness. He is also planning to expand Medi-Cal, the state's healthcare program for the poor, to include more preventative health initiatives to help the mentally ill and keep the chronically homeless out of emergency rooms. With federal matching funds, he proposes increasing Medi-Cal spending to $1.4 billion.
Shortly after Newsom took office last year, he proposed appointing a statewide "homelessness czar," though as the Chronicle notes, that hire never happened. Newsom instead established a task force to address the homeless crisis, and as former national homelessness czar and a member of that task force Philip Mangano tells the Chron, "Gavin is the homeless czar in California. Period. End of story." Mangano characterizes the task force's work as "research and development" on the issue, which Newsom can then use to decide on actions.
In a tweet on January 2, Newsom touted that the state "invested $1B to address homelessness" in 2019, and "invested $1.75B in new housing construction funding."
Homelessness was up 17 percent in San Francisco between 2017 and 2019, and it was up 16 percent statewide last year, causing HUD Secretary Ben Carson to recently blame the entire country's uptick on California. While some cite the hospitable climate for outdoor living and the national drug and mental health crises as root causes for California's homeless issue, housing affordability in the state is also at an all-time crisis point, with housing shortages in many cities statewide.