California mayors want $3 billion over 3 years for homeless

The mayors of California’s 11 largest cities asked Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature on Monday to approve $3 billion over three years in the state budget for flexible homeless funding to go directly to cities.

The mayors said flexible homeless funding is approved annually and they are asking for a three-year commitment from lawmakers and the governor. They said Homeless Housing, Assistance, and Prevention program funds have allowed them to come up with innovative ways to combat homelessness in their cities, including building tiny cabins and setting up lots for people living in RVs and other vehicles.

The funds allowed mayors to add 9,000 new shelter beds and help 25,000 homeless people, they said at a joint news conference. California approved $7.4 billion last year for about 30 housing and homelessness programs, according to the nonpartisan legislative analyst’s office.

That money will be spent over three years. This year, Newsom has proposed $2 billion in new spending to address homelessness over the next two years, in addition to the money that has already been approved.

In San Jose and Oakland, the mayors used the funds to build tiny cabins to shelter homeless people who were not open to going to a congregate setting. In Fresno and Stockton, the mayors used some of the flexible funds to hire outreach and intervention workers. Oakland also built an RV-safe parking site — the first city in the state to do so.

“We are all using these dollars to actually improve how the entire homeless system is working and that will continue, and it must continue without discontinuing funding for roughly two-thirds of our existing shelter systems,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff said.

If the funding stops, “these innovations will fall off a fiscal cliff,” she added.

Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer said that about 16 months ago, there were 650 homeless people living near Fresno freeways but thanks to state funds he was able to hire a team of 18 outreach workers who have helped them move to shelters or permanent housing.

“Today there’s not a single homeless person living on our freeways. There’s not a single tent that is erected on our freeways, and it’s because of the funding that we received from the state of California through HHAP and Project Homekey” he said.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia did not attend the event due a family commitment, his chief of staff, James Ahumada, said, adding that the city instead sent a delegation to Sacramento to advocate for funding.

Project Homekey funds helped cities buy and/or restore buildings that were used to house homeless people, but those funds can’t be used for any other purposes, such as operating housing in new buildings, said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

In Long Beach, those funds helped create hundreds of non-congregate units for chronically homeless people that city staff say has made it easier to convince more people to come off the streets because of the level of privacy afforded through the Homekey sites like the motel the city purchased in the Washington Neighborhood in 2021.

Last week, Long Beach applied for up to $45 million more in Homekey funding to help build up to 35 tiny homes at its Multi-Service Center in West Long Beach and to potentially buy another motel to turn into a Homekey facility.

The city conducted its homeless count in February but has yet to release an updated number of homeless living in Long Beach. The 2020 count found 2,034 people living in some state of homelessness in Long Beach.

Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento said not getting the funds from the state would mean having to dip into the cities’ general funds, which would lead to cutting or delaying funding for other programs, including parks, public safety and infrastructure.

Even with state funding, the city of Santa Ana had to use more than $25 million from its general fund to address homelessness, he said.”Cities are not the agency vested with this responsibility,” he said. “But we also can’t ignore the problem. We also can’t evade the problem.”

Staff writer Jason Ruiz contributed to this report. 

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