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Gov. Newsom's Budget Has $1 Billion To Address Homelessness, But Advocates Want More Investment In Permanent Housing

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

A homeless tent site on the American River Parkway.

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

In his revised budget proposal last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom included a $1 billion dollar investment in homeless services, a significant increase from his initial spending plan in January.

But Newsom’s focus — on short-term, emergency aid — was questioned by some advocates for homeless individuals.  

The bulk of the budget’s homelessness funding, $650 million, is set aside for cities and counties to build or expand emergency shelters. That money would also pay for so-called navigation centers to connect people with homeless services.

Lisa Hershey, executive director of the nonprofit Housing California, said the governor should do more to fund permanent housing rather than temporary fixes like more shelters.

“If you look at what’s going to actually solve the problem, it’s a systematic investment in these longer-term solutions” such as permanent housing and rental assistance, Hershey said. “Otherwise, we’re just going to keep putting more people into the homelessness situation.”

Sharon Rapport, associate director of California policy at the Corporation for Supportive Housing, agreed, saying, “It takes a more comprehensive, thoughtful approach than just emergency aid.” CSH is a national organization that develops housing policy and makes housing loans.

In a written statement, a spokesman for the governor said Newsom believes permanent supportive housing is “the key to solving homelessness.”

“The $650 [million] homeless emergency aid bucket allows for permanent supportive housing but does not set aside a specific amount, allowing local communities to implement the appropriate strategies to best meet their needs.”

California is home to one quarter of the nation's homeless people, though it represents just 12 percent of the country's overall population. It also has the highest share of unsheltered homeless people, 69 percent, of any state.

Two years ago, California's homeless population jumped nearly 14 percent as the nation's remained flat. Last year it declined 1 percent.

Along with the money for local governments, Newsom’s plan also has $40 million to connect UC and CSU students who are homeless with housing services. Additionally, it calls for $150 million to address the shortage of mental health professionals and $20 million to boost legal assistance in tenant eviction cases.

Overall, the $1 billion investment is up from the $625 million Newsom proposed for homelessness programs in January.

Though some are concerned about Newsom’s strategy, at least one longtime Democratic state lawmaker said he’s on the right track. 

“I’m particularly pleased Gov. Newsom is boosting spending to combat homelessness,” State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said in a written statement. “I also applaud the governor’s recognition that our homeless emergency impacts California’s college students and that he’s included funding dedicated to rapidly rehouse homeless students.”

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