Newsom Asking Lawmakers for $1.4 Billion to Help in Homeless Crisis

CNS News
January 08, 2020 - 7:14 am

California's governor said Wednesday that he is seeking $750 million in part to help pay rent for people facing homelessness in the most populous state's latest attempt to fight what he called a national crisis.

Gov. Gavin Newsom planned to sign an executive order Wednesday creating the fund, two days before he presents his second annual budget proposal to the state Legislature.

The state's worsening affordable housing and homelessness problem has prompted anger and outrage from citizens and repeated criticism from President Donald Trump aimed at Newsom and other Democratic leaders.

The governor also directed the state to provide 100 travel trailers and modular tent structures to cities and counties that meet certain criteria. The trailers and tents would be used for temporary housing and to provide related health and social services. He also announced a multi-agency “strike team" to help local governments address homelessness.

The new fund could include not only state taxpayer money but donations from philanthropic organizations and the private sector. The money would go to providers to pay rent, pay for affordable housing units, or to aid board and care homes.

Newsom said a year ago that he wanted to build housing on surplus state property. His new order directs his administration to identify some of those properties that can be used by local governments or nonprofits to shelter homeless individuals on a short-term emergency basis, so long as it doesn't delay the development of affordable housing.

He said the state will measure local governments' success in moving people off the streets as a requirement for receiving more state assistance.

“Californians are demanding that all levels of government — federal, state and local — do more to get people off the streets and into services — whether that’s emergency housing, mental health services, substance abuse treatment or all of the above,” Newsom said in a statement.

He said compassion for those who are homeless “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.”

To that end, he said he is also seeking $695 million including federal funds to increase spending on preventative healthcare through the state's Medicaid program. The money, which he expected to eventually reach $1.4 billion, would go to prevent things that he said can lead to homelessness, including aiding tenants and helping people find housing. A portion could even go to rent assistance if it helps individuals lower their high use of healthcare services.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has voted to ask Governor Gavin Newsom to budget $500 million statewide for residential board-and-care facilities, which they say are otherwise in danger of closing.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl says 39 board-and-care facilities have been forced to close since 2016.

California reimburses board-and-care facilities $35 per day for residents through their Supplemental Security Income benefits, which advocates say is not nearly enough to cover the actual cost of care.

The board also announced nearly $12 million in county funding for the facilities that provide homes as well as meals and other support services for mentally ill or medically vulnerable residents.

Facing more and more heat over the homeless problem, Newsom is asking lawmakers for more money, well over a billion dollars worth, to help deal with the crisis.

City officials confirmed that another phase of the cleanup of homeless encampments in the Sepulveda Basin will take place today.

The basin has been monitored by the city frequently since fires erupted last summer throughout the wildland area, which is leased by the city from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation and Environment officials said the cleanup is expected to start around 8 a.m.

Homeless people have been cleared from Sepulveda Basin in three other areas because it's designated as parkland that closes at dusk and reopens at dawn.

LASAN officials have broken the basin's cleanup into separate phases. The first phase was to clean out areas near the Sepulveda Basin Sports Complex, the second was around Haskell Creek and the third phase was near Bull Creek.

But this last phase is in a place where the public is never supposed to enter, according to city officials, because it is in a floodplain near Encino Creek, and that can be dangerous for human habitation in the event of heavy rains.

Hundreds of homeless people have been identified as living in the Sepulveda Basin by local advocacy organizations, and there could be as many as 100 still inhabiting the area.

Sepulveda Basin was subject to fires last summer that charred dozens of acres. The most recent fire occurred Oct. 24, burning about 60 acres. Another fire burned 10 acres in July, days before the first scheduled cleanup, with some propane tanks spotted in the burn area, increasing the danger for fire crews.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and the nonprofit organization LA Family Housing have been referring homeless people who have been removed from the basin to housing services. The number of people who have been referred to services from the basin since last summer was not immediately available, but LAHSA staff told City News Service they would release that data when it is available.

In addition to LASAN's cleanup and outreach CARE and CARE-Plus teams, Los Angeles Police Department and park rangers have been assisting with enforcement during cleanups.

Although Los Angeles challenged a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in a case known as Martin v. the city of Boise, the city cannot remove homeless people from public areas unless they have shelter or housing for them, and the U.S. Supreme

Court declined to hear the case in December. But the city does have safety measures in place that do not allow people to reside in high-risk fire zones and floodplanes.

Associated Press contributed to this story.