Gavin Newsom blocks $1 billion in funds for homelessness in California cities

SACRAMENTO — SACRAMENTO — California Governor Gavin Newsom will withhold $1 billion in public funding from cities and counties because he says local governments are failing to get people off the streets fast enough.

Newsom’s announcement Thursday morning represents part of the accountability Newsom has long promised on homelessness, one of the Golden State’s most pressing issues. His administration has put billions of dollars for housing and homelessness funding into the state budget, which Republicans and some Democrats say is not being used effectively. The funds Newsom is now withholding include more than $180 million allocated to local governments in the Bay Area.

Newsom’s assessment is based on plans his administration asked cities and counties to submit detailing how they would reduce homelessness. On Thursday, he announced that plans submitted by local governments would only reduce homelessness by 2% by 2024, which he called “unacceptable”.

“California people demand accountability and results, not the status quo,” he said in a statement. “At this rate, it would take decades to significantly reduce homelessness in California.”

Newsom says his office will convene local government leaders this month to improve their plans.

His office did not respond to questions seeking further details about the announcement.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed criticized Newsom’s office’s abrupt decision, which she said came without warning or clear direction on how to address the state’s concerns. The money Newsom is holding includes $47.3 million pledged to San Francisco.

“While we welcome accountability, now is not the time to delay funds that will help get people off the streets,” Breed said in a written statement. “Now is not the time to create more obstacles for local governments without any clear explanation of what is needed.”

Emily Cohen, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Department of Homelessness, said the announcement puts services and shelters for people living on the streets at risk. This includes over 400 adult shelter beds, a drop-in center for youth, case management to help people move out of shelters and into housing, overdose prevention services and more. The city has already received $55 million in state money for the homeless.

San Francisco was one of the few counties in the state to reduce homelessness between 2019 and 2022, based on an overnight count. The city recorded a 3.5% decrease in the number of homeless people – from 8,035 to 7,754 – and a 15% drop in the number of people living without shelter in tents, vehicles or on the streets, in 4,397. Officials acknowledge the one-night tally is an undercount and estimate that 20,000 people will be homeless in San Francisco throughout this year.

“It’s progress, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Breed said. “To effectively build on this success, we need state collaboration and clarity.”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf was among the city leaders who lobbied the most for more homelessness funding in the state budget. Oakland, which has already received more than $28 million of the $1.5 billion already distributed to local governments, is using its share of the money to nearly double its number of shelter beds, operate safe parking sites for people living in motorhomes and building small house communities. The city is counting on an additional $24 million in public funds to complete this work.

Alameda County expected an additional $23 million through the county and its Continuum of Care, an agency dedicated to providing services to homeless people.

Schaaf said in a statement to The Chronicle that she shares the governor’s sense of urgency to reduce homelessness, but is “perplexed” about how the decision “advances our common goals.”

“Oakland followed the state’s process exactly as directed, so we’re hoping this pause incorporates our front-line wisdom and improves on last year’s process,” Schaaf said.

Carolyn Coleman, CEO of the League of California Cities, also criticized the governor’s decision, accusing him of playing politics “when people’s lives are at stake.”

Cities and counties have primarily used their state homelessness funds to maintain their existing programs for homeless Californians, instead of using the money to get more people off the streets, said Tomiquia Moss, CEO of All Home, a non-profit organization working in the Bay Area on a regional approach to addressing homelessness. When they meet later this month, local governments and the Newsom administration should work together to revamp their overall strategy to get more people into housing, she said.

Cities are focusing on a “reactive” response and juggling residents’ frustration rather than tackling the crisis with a “comprehensive approach”, she said.

“I don’t think it was a solid planning process that would result in really ambitious plans,” Moss said. “So I think the Governor’s desire to do more of this deeper work with jurisdictions so that everyone is accountable for a more urgent response to homelessness is the right approach.”

Newsom’s decision to suspend funding for the homeless is the latest example of his willingness to intervene in local affairs that he says are not being adequately addressed. Last month, Newsom suspended $1.7 million in public funds that had been earmarked for San Francisco to build a single bathroom in Noe Valley, saying the city needed to find a way to cut costs. Earlier this year, his administration announced it was reviewing San Francisco’s long and arduous housing approvals process in a bid to get homes built faster.

His crackdown on housing and homelessness projects in San Francisco and other parts of the state comes as his administration flounders on its biggest campaign promises: to build more housing and get people off the streets. Recent analyzes by CalMatters found that California’s homeless population has increased by 22,000 during the pandemic and that California has authorized only 13% of the 3.5 million new homes that Newsom said. that the state was to build by 2025.

Sophia Bollag, Mallory Moench and Sarah Ravani are writers for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] Twitter: @SophiaBollag, @SarRavani

Bernard P. Love