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Governor Newsom Addresses The Homelessness Crisis In State Of The State Address

California governor Gavin Newsom called the worsening homelessness crisis a “disgrace” in his second State of the State speech on Feb. 19, vowing to implement aggressive measures to confront the issue.

“By any standard, by nearly every recognizable metric, the state of California is not just thriving but, in many ways, leading the country, inventing the future and inspiring the nation,” Newsom said in his address to state lawmakers. 

“No amount of progress though can camouflage the most pernicious crisis in our midst, the ultimate manifestation of poverty: homelessness.” Newsom said. “Let’s call it what it is, it’s a disgrace, that the richest state in the richest nation … is falling so far behind to properly house, heal and humanely treat so many of its own people.”

More than a quarter of the nation’s homeless live in California, amounting to 151,278 people. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the number of homeless people in the state grew by 16% from 2018 to 2019.

In his State of the State Address, Newsom outlined a five-point framework to combat the homeless dilemma, which includes emergency actions to quickly and humanely reduce street homelessness, provisions for mental health treatment for the homeless, an increase in affordable housing and the stabilization of funding to tackle the problem and measure progress. 

Newsom acknowledged that Californians have “lost patience” with state political leaders who have largely ignored the homelessness crisis. 

According to opinion polls, homelessness is the top issue that residents want the governor and state legislation to address. 

“Every day, the California dream is dimmed by the wrenching reality of families, children and seniors living unfed on a concrete bed,” Newsom said. “The hard truth is we ignored the problem.”

Newsom refuted criticism that California’s leadership is to blame for the homelessness issue in his speech. Instead, he provided an extensive history on the causes of the crisis in California, noting the national “de-institutionalization” of the mentally ill that began in the 1940s and cuts to essential safety net programs throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s.

He also added that today’s homelessness population is down by 35,000 people from the number of those living on the streets in 2005 when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor, emphasizing that combating homelessness would be his administration’s top priority. 

Newsom dedicated more than $1 billion of last year’s budget toward fighting homelessness, though much of that money is just now being used. The governor has proposed another $1 billion for his 2020 to 2021 budget. This includes $750 million for a new fund that would contribute to housing for the homeless and help keep at risk-families in their homes.

Newsom supports the creation of a significant, permanent stream of revenue focused on curtailing homelessness. However, some officials in Sacramento say that would require an increase in taxes. 

Local governments were also offered free use of 286 state properties to dedicate to the homeless, including vacant lots, fairgrounds, armories and other state buildings. 

In January, Newsom issued Executive Order N-20-23 to provide 100 emergency mobile housing trailers throughout the state as homeless shelters. 

In his address, Newsom also called for all new shelters and supportive housing for homeless to be exempted from a key environmental law that has been used to restrict development.

Despite these extensive proposals, the Legislative Analyst’s office has indicated a need for more planning to make efforts to address the homelessness issue. 

“The crisis was not created overnight and it will not be solved overnight — or even in a year,” Newsom said.

While homelessness is a large issue state and nationwide, Orange County itself has been struck by this dilemma and is attempting to search for ways in which to relieve the plight of the homeless.

The state of California has been putting increasing amounts of pressure on Orange County to address the housing shortage by creating zones for new construction.

However, Orange County cities have been pushing back on new regional quotes designed to significantly expand housing goals for the next 10 years. 

While the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) board approved a draft plan in November to increase housing targets for cities in Orange County such as Newport Beach and Irvine, city officials criticized the draft as unfair and failing to take into account the cities’ other concerns. 

“Our City is nearly built-out and for the State and SCAG to require us to provide an additional 22,000-plus units isn’t feasible or reasonable,” Irvine Mayor Christina Shea said in a text to reporters from Voice of OC

However, the Executive Director of SCAG, Kome Ajise, disagrees with Mayor Shea, arguing that taking action to alleviate the issue is critical. 

“This is a serious crisis for us,” Kome Ajise said. “It’s one that I think the survival of our region depends on, because if we don’t provide enough workforce affordable housing we’re going to continue to lose people that are talented and the jobs will follow them.” 

The amount of homeless deaths has also been increasing. An emergency request in early 2019 from U.S. District Judge David O. Carter highlighted the growing numbers of homeless people dying in Orange County, which was 200 people per year at the time. 

Despite resistance to the construction of new homes, many officials still want to establish housing for the homeless. They now plan to build at least 2,700 new units of permanent housing that offer support services for homeless people. 

A UCI study found that the construction of housing units would save more taxpayer money than it costs to develop the units while also getting homeless people off the streets. 

Currently, 24 units have been built and 280 are under construction. 

Nonetheless, there is still a disagreement between officials about what preventative and relief measures should be taken in order to alleviate the homelessness crisis. 

Some leaders, including the founder of the Homeless Task Force and Dana Point City Council member Paul Wyatt, disagree that increased housing will solve the problem. Instead, they suggest that prevention is a more critical solution than shelter.

In an interview with the OC Register, Wyatt said that “every dollar we spend on shelters is money we don’t spend on a permanent solution … We have to do more than just putting them out of sight. We have to look at what we need to do to minimize the need for shelters.” 

Despite the dissonance between leaders over proposed solutions for the homelessness problem, many officials agree that the main causes of homelessness are a lack of economic stability, substance abuse and mental health issues. 

For the most part, politicians are united in their understanding of the homelessness problem. In spite of their differing approaches to solving the issue, most have the common goal of relieving the qualms of the homeless. 

“Overcoming adversity and tackling intractable problems are as ingrained in California’s character as our sun-kissed coast and our bread-basket valley,” Newsom said. “With homelessness, I know it can be done because I’ve seen successes along the way.”

Alessandra Arif is a City News Intern for the 2020 winter quarter. She can be reached at aearif@uci.edu.