In Long Beach, $8.5M in homeless funding withheld as governor demands cities ‘step up’

The governor’s surprise announcement Thursday to delay grant funding to address homelessness will hold up $8.5 million intended to help house people in Long Beach, according to state figures.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said “homeless action plans” submitted by cities and continuum of care agencies that provide social services were not sufficient to tackle the problem of homelessness—an issue voters consistently say is most important to them.

“Deliver damn results,” the governor said in a pointed interview with the LA Times. “It’s a crisis. Act like it. Everybody step up.”

He offered a direct challenge to mayors: “You want me to come in? I’ll do the job. I’ll do it. Happily.”

While many mayors across the state have pushed back on the governor’s rhetoric—many of them fellow Democrats—political leaders in Long Beach said they agree with Newsom.

“I support the governor in trying to come up with a stronger way to address this,” said Mayor Robert Garcia, who has been in office for eight years and is running for Congress in Tuesday’s election.

Long Beach has received roughly $85 million over the last two years from federal and state coffers to address homelessness, yet the number of unhoused individuals has risen by 62%, according to the latest point-in-time count.

Asked what the city could be doing better, the mayor cited building housing, “having more direct contact with people,” addressing mental health, and continuing to adapt and reuse motels for temporary and permanent housing.

Councilmember Rex Richardson, who has been on the City Council for eight years and is running to replace Garcia in Tuesday’s election, said he agrees with the governor: “We’re spending a whole lot of money, and clearly we need to do more. (Voters) want to see a bigger return on their investment, and we’re going to have to set more aggressive targets.”

Councilmember Suzie Price, also a candidate for mayor who has been on the council for eight years, said the city’s approach isn’t working. “I don’t think the standards should be, ‘We’re doing our best.’ We need some performance metrics.”

But city employees said the goals Long Beach set in its application for state money are, in fact, aggressive.

According to a copy of the application reviewed by the Post, one of Long Beach’s goals was to reduce its unsheltered population by 0%, or in other words, stop it from growing beyond the 2020 level of 1,582.

In his criticism of cities, Newsom said it was unacceptable that all their plans combined would only reduce homeless statewide by 2%. But Paul Duncan, head of the city’s Homeless Services Bureau, called this analysis flawed: “They’re using pre-pandemic, 2020 numbers to establish a baseline.”

Between 2020 and 2022, Long Beach’s unsheltered population increased dramatically to 2,287, so getting it back to the 2020 numbers is a “lofty goal” that would include getting 705 people off the streets in two years, Duncan said.

Here’s a general breakdown of how the city planned to use the $8.5 million grant, which it applied for six months ago:

  • $4.1 million for an expansion of non-congregate interim shelter
  • $450,000 for administrative support
  • $1.4 million for rental assistance
  • $1 million for permanent supportive housing
  • $1 million for outreach and engagement

The state said the grant funds were intended specifically to help house those who were provided temporary shelter during the pandemic through programs called Project Roomkey, which has now ended.

The city closed its Roomkey site at the Days Inn at the end of September, and others who were offered motel vouchers with Roomkey funding are being told they must move out this month.

Of the 324 individuals who were housed through Roomkey, in motels through vouchers or a different program that is still operating called Project Homekey, 63 have found permanent housing—less than 20%—according to the most recent figures provided by the city.

The city has already received $10 million in the first two rounds of grants through the state’s Homelessness Housing, Assistance and Prevention program. The $8.5 million Newsom delayed would’ve been Long Beach’s third round of funding through the program.

Newsom said he would convene a meeting this month to review plans and the state’s collective approach to finding housing for the homeless.

While leaders in Long Beach were more conciliatory, mayors across the state are pushing back.

In a statement, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti called Newsom’s decision to delay funds “perplexing” because the city “worked directly with and received positive feedback from state agencies and county partners to develop our plan.”

“Having already waited 16 months for this funding, it cannot help people suffering to have the agreed funding timeline changed at the last minute,” he said. “Californians deserve a government that works in unison to bring urgency to this crisis. Lives are on the line and we can’t afford for this work to get mired in more politics and bureaucracy.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed told Politico that Newsom is “creating more hoops for local governments to jump through without any clear explanation of what’s required.”

And Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf told the San Francisco Chronicle: I’m “perplexed how delaying (these) funds advances our shared goals.”

City News Service and CalMatters contributed to this report. 

‘Do better’: Newsom pauses $1B in homelessness spending

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Melissa has been a journalist for over two decades, starting her career as a reporter covering health and religion and moving into local news. She has worked as an editor for eight years, including seven years at the Press Telegram before joining the Long Beach Post in June 2018. She also serves as a part-time lecturer at Cal State Long Beach where she teaches multimedia journalism and writing.
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