California governor uses State of the State to highlight homelessness crisis
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) used his second State of the State address Wednesday to call for an aggressive response to a growing homelessness crisis, even as the state’s economy booms at a record pace.
As California’s poverty rate tumbles and the state adds new jobs at a ferocious clip, Newsom called the failure to tackle homelessness “a disgrace” and “the most pernicious crisis in our midst.”
“Every day, the California Dream is dimmed by the wrenching reality of families, children and seniors living unfed on a concrete bed,” Newsom said. “Most of us experience homelessness as a pang of guilt, not a call to action.”
More than 150,000 people live on the streets and in temporary shelters in California, the largest homeless population in the nation and the second-highest percentage of the overall population, after Hawaii. The state’s homeless population has risen precipitously in spite of $1.5 billion in new spending initiatives approved by the legislature in just the last two years.
Newsom said the problem had expanded from large urban areas where housing prices are ballooning out of control, like the Bay Area, into smaller towns and rural areas where homelessness has never been a significant problem.
“Some of the most troubling increases have occurred in rural areas, in small towns and remote parts of our state. No place is immune. No person untouched,” Newsom said. “And too often, no one wants to take responsibility.”
The singular focus is notable for Newsom, who rode a Democratic wave to office in the 2018 midterm elections and who had been criticized during his first year for an overly broad agenda that included virtually every pressing issue California faces — a focus on everything that meant prioritizing nothing.
But Newsom signaled he, in his second year, would aim to tackle a growing crisis that has been the butt of some of President Trump’s frequent jabs against the most populous state in the country. Newsom said the state would prioritize moving newly homeless people quickly into emergency shelters, which research has showed lowers repeat homelessness. And he said the state would prioritize treatment for the mentally ill who too often end up in tent cities.
Newsom issued an executive order in January to deploy trailers to house families and seniors, the first of which have rolled out in Oakland and Los Angeles. New rounds are being deployed to four counties and the city of Stockton. Newsom said the government would make 286 state-owned properties available to local governments to house their homeless populations.
But at least one potential solution to the homelessness crisis has remained stubbornly stuck in the legislature in Sacramento. Major initiatives to reform the state’s housing code to allow for the construction of new high-density housing have stalled repeatedly, the victim of local governments that do not want to give up their low-density lifestyles.
Newsom called on legislators to scale back environmental regulations that were slowing the creation of new homeless housing across the state, and to pass a special access to housing fund that would help families get off the streets. Newsom asked for $750 million for the first-of-its-kind fund.
“We need more housing, not more delays,” he said. “It’s time for California to say yes to housing. We cannot wait.”
Newsom blamed the Trump administration and his frequent sparring partner, the president, who delights in highlighting California’s shortcomings on Twitter. He said federal cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development were harming the state’s ability to house its homeless population.
“I’m old enough to remember when HUD was in the housing business. And I’m hopeful it will be again,” he said.
Newsom contrasted the growing number of homeless Californians with the state’s still-robust economy, which is nearing ten consecutive years of net job growth. California’s gross domestic product has grown faster than the national average for the last five years, and it has accounted for 1 in 7 new jobs created since the recession.
“California is the rocket fuel powering America’s resurgence, that — let me be clear — was put into motion by President Barack Obama,” Newsom said.
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