Updated 6:05 p.m.
Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Thursday his administration will provide 1,200 tiny homes to cities and counties around California in an effort to shelter unhoused people in the state, which has the highest rate of homelessness in the nation.
Sacramento will receive 350 homes, Los Angeles will get 500, San Jose will receive 200 and San Diego County will get 150, according to the governor’s office.
Several tiny homes on display at a stop along Gov. Gavin Newsom's State of the State tour, at Cal Expo in Sacramento, Calif. on March 16, 2023.Nicole Nixon / CapRadio
“I get it. You want to see progress and you want to see it now,” Newsom said at a news conference at Cal Expo, where some of the Sacramento region’s homes will be placed. “You want to see progress in terms of encampments. You want to see progress in terms of getting people off the street.”
Newsom said the tiny homes will offer local governments a way to humanely move people from encampments to shelter.
“It’s not just about sweeping things under the rug or kicking people off the streets and sidewalks and claiming a job well done,” the governor said. “That doesn’t do justice.”
Newsom’s announcement at the state fairgrounds served as the kick-off to his four-day tour across California — happening in lieu of a traditional state of the state address. The governor is expected to unveil a series of policies regarding public safety and health care costs, according to his office.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg spoke at the event and said his city welcomes the small homes, noting officials have struggled to provide shelter as the region’s unhoused population has surged.
“Despite the unprecedented commitment and investment by this governor, we still don’t have enough [shelter] beds,” Steinberg said. “We started out with less than 100 when I was [first elected] mayor. Now we’re at 1,100 beds a night and they’re full.”
The governor said the tiny homes will cost approximately $30 million and would be set up “within months, not years,” estimating they could be open by this fall. All of the homes will be wired for electricity and most will have a heating and cooling system, said Daniel Lopez, a spokesperson for the governor. Some will be plumbed for water, though others will require separate bathroom and laundry facilities, he added.
The tiny homes will be procured by the state and then delivered and set up in local communities by the California National Guard. In exchange, the cities and counties receiving the tiny homes will be expected to choose the location and provide services for the people who will be sheltered by them.
But those services won’t be cheap and the tiny homes might not open right away.
Sacramento County is already spending more than $7 million to build and operate a 100-unit tiny home village in South Sacramento. But after announcing the project last April, officials said it’s experienced $500,000 in cost overruns and won’t open until late this spring.
Steinberg said the state has agreed to cover the cost of building the tiny homes and related infrastructure. He added that a recently signed partnership agreement with Sacramento County means the city won’t be the only local government paying to operate the site.
“It’s not the city alone anymore,” Steinberg explained. “We need the county, not only for operating but for the services. The mental health and substance abuse services.”
Speaking at Cal Expo, Steinberg and newly-elected Sacramento State Senator Angelique Ashby, a Democrat who previously served on the Sacramento City Council, both said the recently signed city-county partnership helped the region secure the 350 tiny homes. However, no county elected officials attended the event.
“I wish they had been here today but it's OK, Steinberg said. “We’ve been working well with them. We talk regularly and we know that there are always going to be some hiccups along the way, but we just have to work through them.”
In a written statement, county spokesperson Janna Haynes said the county “appreciates the interest and investment of resources by the State in helping to address the crisis of homelessness in Sacramento County. We do not currently have any details and will work closely with our city and state partners to learn more about details and expectations for these 350 tiny homes.”
Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, said Newsom’s announcement is “a positive step,” though he said much more is needed to ease the state’s crisis.
“Now it will be up to the county to step up to provide services” for the new tiny homes, Erlenbusch said.
‘We need to focus on triaging today’
Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, a Democrat who represents Sacramento, including the Cal Expo area, said permanent supportive housing remains the long-term answer to homelessness, “but we need to focus on triaging today.”
“Californians demand action today. We cannot wait,” McCarty said. “This helps get people out of the encampments along our beloved American River Parkway and from our central city freeways.”
McCarty added that he’s grateful the state fairgrounds will finally be used as a site for homeless housing. In 2021, Newsom signed a bill authored by McCarty to allow Cal Expo to be used for that purpose, but the siting of small homes never took place.
While Democrats praised Newsom’s plan, the state Senate’s top Republican Brian Jones of San Diego called it “another band-aid on a crisis that is out of control.”
“While I appreciate the governor’s creativity to construct 1,200 tiny homes, that is a drop in the bucket,” Jones said in a written statement.
The governor also announced a marked improvement in local governments’ plans to reduce homelessness since October, when he temporarily held back $1 billion in grants to cities and counties, saying the combined plans would only aim to reduce homelessness by 2%.
After collecting revised plans, he said that number had increased to a 15% reduction goal statewide. The governor plans to release another $1 billion in grants under the state’s Homelessness Housing, Assistance and Prevention (HHAP) program.
The rising rate of homelessness has exposed tensions between state and local officials about the problem. Newsom, citing billions spent to reduce homelessness in recent years, has called for stronger results and greater accountability from local governments.
Steinberg and other local officials have called for an ongoing financial commitment from the state, which they argue would help them plan years in advance for shelter and treatment.
Some, including San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, have also said they can’t keep up with the pace of residents falling into homelessness due to rising rents and financial instability. For every ten people the city helped get off the streets last year, Gloria said 13 more lost their housing.
In Sacramento, Steinberg said he agrees “that the governor's call for greater accountability is also correct.”
He said there should be a legal obligation for the state and local governments to provide shelter and services, such as addiction and mental health treatment, for unhoused residents. At the same time, he believes unsheltered people should have an obligation to accept the help offered.
“Absent that, you're going to have a lot of fragmented and less-than-urgent efforts out there to actually provide the relief that the people who are suffering deserve, and that our communities are rightfully demanding,” he said.
‘Define who’s supposed to do what’
For years, advocates for people experiencing homelessness in Sacramento have called on the city and county to work together more effectively to confront the region’s crisis. Those calls helped push forward the region’s homelessness partnership agreement.
But there remains a lack of agreement and clarity across California over which local and state agencies are responsible for which roles in addressing the crisis. Officials have asked: How can local governments address growing homeless camps on state property, such as along freeways, when it’s not their jurisdiction? How can a city provide mental health or addiction treatment services when only county governments are funded to do so?
On Thursday morning, the California Association of Counties, CSAC, unveiled its AT HOME plan with the goal of defining those roles for all levels of government. The association advocates for county governments.
Yolo County Supervisor Oscar Villegas, a member of CSAC’s homelessness action team, told CapRadio the plan would allow cities, counties and the state to “finally, once and for all, focus in on this issue of homelessness and how are we going to make a difference.”
“We believe the precursor to real, long-term success on homelessness is to first define who’s supposed to do what,” added CSAC executive director Graham Knaus, speaking at a press conference.
Officials said the plan would ultimately require the state’s approval to become law.
The most recent federal estimates show California’s homeless population reached more than 171,000 last year, or 30% of the nation’s total unhoused population. The vast majority of the state’s homeless population is unsheltered, meaning they live on the street, in a vehicle, an abandoned building or anywhere else considered unsuitable for habitation.
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