The Governor's Office on Thursday announced that it was putting a pause on releasing a third round of grants totaling $1 billion from a key funding program that sends money to address homelessness to cities and counties across the state.

Gavin is flexing his muscles once again in what appears to be an effort to look tough on arguably the biggest issue facing California cities, homelessness. On Thursday his office announced that it would be withholding the latest round of grants in the Homelessness Housing, Assistance and Prevention (HHAP) grant program, pending a convention of local leaders later this month to reassess plans at a larger scale.

Eligibility for the grants, which total about $1 billion in this round and of which San Francisco was set to receive a combined $47 million, requires cities, counties, and housing providers to submit detailed plans for addressing and reducing homelessness. And Newsom says many of the plans need work.

"Californians demand accountability and results, not settling for the status quo,” Newsom said in a statement. "As a state, we are failing to meet the urgency of this moment. Collectively, these plans set a goal to reduce street homelessness 2% statewide by 2024... this approach is simply unacceptable."

The plans submitted to the state were not all bad, the governor's office says. But Newsom wants to bring people to the table in mid-November to "learn from one another about what works," and "coordinate on an approach that will deliver more substantial results."

"While some plans show local leaders taking aggressive action to combat homelessness, others are less ambitious – some plans even reflect double-digit increases in homelessness over four years," the governor's office says in a release.

The state, they say, is looking for better articulated plans that "include outcome-driven results and strategies for achieving these goals [of reducing homelessness] using clear metrics to track success."

San Francisco had around 7,750 people living on the streets as of the most recent point-in-time count this past winter, a slight decrease from the last count in 2019. But statewide, the homeless population grew by around 22,500 people during the pandemic, as CalMatters reported last month.

In the third round allocations of HHAP grants, the City and County of San Francisco were set to collectively receive $35 million in funds, and another $12 million was allocated to the city via HUD's Continuum of Care program. The latter pool of money is distributed via the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH), and final grantee allocations were decided by a committee in September.

Whether this delay in funding is going to affect any of those organizations, or HSH, in the coming weeks is not clear.

As the Chronicle reports, only Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf gave a comment on the governor's move, saying she was "perplexed how delaying HHAP funds advances our shared goals."

"Oakland followed the state’s process exactly as instructed, so we hope this pause will incorporate our front-line wisdom and improve upon last year’s process," Schaaf added.

Tomiquia Moss, the CEO of Bay Area homelessness nonprofit All Home, actually praised the governor's decision in a comment to the Chronicle, saying, "I think that the governor's desire to do more of that deeper work together with jurisdictions so that everyone is accountable for a more urgent response to unsheltered homelessness is the right approach."

Certainly homelessness is a much broader and complex problem than how it is typically covered in the media, and it's something that significantly impacts the entire West Coast, including California, due in part to our generally temperate climates. The root causes of homelessness are national if not global, and relate to how we as a society deal with people who suffer from mental illness, fall into drug addiction, or simply lose their stable income and means of housing themselves, perhaps in combination with addiction or physical or mental health issues. It's unlikely that one convention of local leaders and homeless service providers is going to address all that, but a comprehensive statewide approach is probably a good thing.

This is just the latest move in which Newsom is taking a tough-love stance, particularly toward his hometown of San Francisco. His office recently responded to a media story and some public outcry about a $1.7M public toilet project in Noe Valley, saying the state would be withholding its funding for the project until the city could make the plan cheaper. And in August, the state Department of Housing and Community Development launched an unprecedented audit of San Francisco's approvals process for new housing, saying the city "has the longest timelines in the state for advancing housing projects to construction, [and] among the highest housing and construction costs."

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