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Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg To Head California’s New Homelessness Commission

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Health care and housing advocates are increasingly trying to address mental illness, substance addiction and homelessness all at once, instead of providing one-time assistance in emergency rooms and shelters. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg has long pushed for this strategy — and now he’ll be championing it for California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

At his State of the State address Tuesday, the governor announced that Steinberg will lead the new Commission on Homelessness & Supportive Housing, with the goal of addressing the underlying causes that keep people on the streets.

The governor noted that many of California’s homeless, “whether they're families, veterans, victims of rent spikes, or survivors fleeing domestic violence,” are suffering from illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or paranoia.

“Many are self-medicating with drugs or alcohol as a consequence,” Newsom said. “Our homelessness crisis has increasingly become a public health crisis.”

Instead of traditional shelters, Newsom wants “navigation centers” where people can receive social services on the spot.

In Sacramento, Steinberg is already trying something along those lines. The city’s “Pathways to Health and Home” program identifies homeless people who frequently visit the emergency department and pairs them with community health workers. These workers help clients get to medical appointments, find addiction help, enroll in public aid, apply for work, and find housing if possible — though it often proves difficult in the city’s overcrowded housing market.

“Homelessness is a statewide crisis, but homelessness does not have to be helplessness,” Steinberg said.

Right now, the Pathways program, and two dozen like it throughout the state, are funded by a federal waiver. Newsom announced Tuesday that he’d like to put $100 million into this strategy.

He also wants to invest in solutions that could prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place, such as funding more housing with built-in mental health or addiction services.

“Because while shelter solves sleep, only permanent supportive housing solves homelessness,” Newsom said.

Some homeless advocates have criticized Steinberg for not getting enough people off the street. Others have said they appreciate that he prioritizes the issue.

Steinberg previously focused on housing and mental health issues as state Senate president pro tem, where he sponsored a housing bond called “No Place Like Home”. The bonds are designed to build new housing  for people with mental health services who are experiencing or at risk for chronic homelessness. They’re repaid by funding from the Mental Health Services Act, which Steinberg authored.

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