Gov. Gavin Newsom will withhold $1 billion from towns and counties because they aren’t getting people off the streets quickly enough.
Newsom’s Thursday morning announcement shows some of the accountability he’s pledged on homelessness, one of California’s most pressing issues. His government put billions of dollars in the state budget for housing and homeless programs, which Republicans and some Democrats argue isn’t used effectively. Newsom is withholding $180 million for Bay Area municipal governments.
Newsom’s judgment is based on city and county strategies to minimize homelessness. Thursday, he said local ambitions to eliminate homelessness by 2% by 2024 were “unacceptable.”
“Californians want accountability and outcomes, not status quo,” he stated. At this rate, California’s homelessness will last decades.
Newsom’s office will convene local leaders this month to strengthen planning.
His administration declined to comment on the announcement.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed lambasted Newsom’s unexpected decision, saying it came without warning or clear direction. Newsom is hoarding $47.3 million for San Francisco.
“While we embrace accountability, now is not the time to postpone funds,” Breed said. “Now is not the time to make local governments jump through more hoops without reason.”
Emily Cohen, of San Francisco’s homelessness department, said the announcement threatens homeless services and shelter. This includes 400 adult shelter beds, a juvenile drop-in facility, case management to help people move out of shelters and into homes, and more. The city has received $55 million for homelessness.
San Francisco was one of few counties in the state to minimize homelessness between 2019 and 2022. The city saw a 3.5% drop in homelessness, from 8,035 to 7,754, and a 15% drop in unsheltered tent, car, and street dwellers, to 4,397. Officials predict 20,000 homeless people in San Francisco this year based on a one-night count.
“We still have work to do,” Breed remarked. “We need state collaboration and clarity to build on this success.”
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf pushed for greater state assistance for the homeless. Oakland, which has gotten $28 million of the $1.5 billion already disbursed to local governments, is using its part to nearly increase its shelter beds, maintain safe RV parking spots, and develop tiny home communities. The city needs $24 million in state cash to complete the project.
Alameda County projected $23 million from the county and its homeless services organization.
Schaaf said she shares the governor’s urgency in eliminating homelessness, but she’s “perplexed” how the move “advances our common goals.”
Oakland followed the state’s process exactly, so Schaaf hopes this halt will include front-line wisdom and improve last year’s process.
Carolyn Coleman, CEO of the League of California Cities, accused the governor of playing politics “when lives are at stake.”
Tomiquia Moss, CEO of All Home, a Bay Area group that works on a regional approach to homelessness, said cities and counties have primarily used state homeless funds to maintain existing programs for homeless Californians. Local governments and the Newsom administration should update their housing plan this month, she added.
She stated cities are focusing on a “reactive” response and resident discontent rather than a “comprehensive approach”
“I don’t think there was a robust planning process,” Moss added. I think the governor’s intention to do deeper work with jurisdictions so everyone is accountable for a more immediate response to unsheltered homelessness is the proper way.
Newsom’s decision to stop homeless funds is the latest indication of his readiness to intervene in local issues. Newsom halted $1.7 million in state subsidies for San Francisco to build a single restroom in Noe Valley last month, claiming the city needed to cut costs. His government is revisiting San Francisco’s long and laborious housing approval procedure to speed up construction.
His administration is faltering on his campaign promises to develop more housing and get people off the streets. CalMatters discovered that California’s homeless population expanded by 22,000 during the epidemic and that the state has approved only 13% of the 3.5 million additional houses Newsom indicated it needs by 2025.