Gavin Newsom’s new homeless plan calls for more spending, shelters on state property

California Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to direct $750 million from the state’s upcoming budget to help homeless people get off the streets, his office announced Wednesday morning.

Also on Wednesday, Newsom plans to sign an executive order directing state departments to identify state property that can be used for emergency shelters and designate 100 trailers in California’s fleet for temporary housing and health care services. The executive order will also establish a homelessness “strike team.”

“Homelessness is a national crisis, one that’s spreading across the West Coast and cities across the country,” Newsom said in a statement. “The state of California is treating it as a real emergency.”

Newsom’s announcement comes ahead of his full 2020-21 state budget proposal, which he is expected to unveil later this week, and as he faces immense pressure to address homelessness.

California had significant increases in its homeless population in 2018, outpacing the rest of the country, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Overall, California saw an increase of about 21,000 homeless people from January 2018 to January 2019, bringing the state’s total homeless population to about 151,000.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized Newsom and other California leaders for failing to fix the problem and has threatened federal intervention.

Reducing the state’s homelessness population has been a top policy priority for Newsom and one of his most stubborn problems. In the current state budget, he and lawmakers directed $650 million to help local governments address homelessness.

The additional infusion of $750 million Newsom is proposing could be used to pay rent for homeless people, build housing for them and improve shelters. The money would come from one-time surplus funds projected for the upcoming fiscal year, Newsom’s office said.

California’s long recovery from the Great Recession gives Newsom some financial flexibility. The state is expected to have about $19 billion in reserve accounts by the end of June, and the Legislative Analyst’s Office is projecting California will bring in another $7 billion surplus for the 2020-21 budget year.

Newsom’s full budget proposal is due Friday and will kick off months of negotiations with lawmakers. They must pass a budget deal by June 15, in time for the start of the next fiscal year in July.

The governor also wants to steer more money to Medi-Cal, the state’s health care program for low-income people, to expand the program to include housing assistance for homeless people. The governor wants to improve Medi-Cal’s mental health services, which would also help homeless people, his office said.

In addition, Newsom is calling for a study of the causes of homelessness in California overseen by the state’s Health and Human Services Agency in collaboration with University of California researchers.

Newsom’s office plans to measure how well local governments are working to get people off the streets and require local governments to report their progress to access state homelessness money, his office said.

Newsom’s office also said he aims to consider changing Proposition 63 to make sure the money it generates helps homeless people. Voters passed the ballot measure in 2004 to fund mental health services by levying a 1 percent tax on people with incomes over $1 million.

Last year, Newsom appointed Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to lead an advisory council to guide his homeless policy. He credited the council’s work for informing the actions and proposals he announced Wednesday.

By Sophia Bollag, The Sacramento Bee

McClatchy’s Kate Irby contributed to this report.

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