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Voters could decide if California cities will be punished for not reducing homelessness

Anita Chabria and Benjamin Oreskes, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- With public and political pressure mounting to get homeless people off the streets of California, a task force appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom is recommending that local governments face tough new legal sanctions for failing to make progress.

In a report released Monday, the Council of Regional Homeless Advisors is calling for an amendment to the California Constitution that would create a legally enforceable mandate to reduce the homeless population. The Legislature would have to craft the plan, which would then appear as a statewide ballot measure in November.

If approved by voters, the mandate would allow the state to sue cities and counties -- or even itself -- if the number of people living in street encampments doesn't decline.

The 13-member task force, led by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, argues that the state needs to carry a big stick to convince local jurisdictions that they will face consequences if they don't get people off the streets -- including the possible loss of local control.

"We've tried moral persuasion. We've tried economic incentives," Steinberg said. "But all of it's optional. Why should this be optional? It shouldn't be. It mustn't be. Thousands of people are dying on the streets, and people are telling us this is a priority."

The far-reaching proposal is certain to stir controversy -- both at the Capitol in Sacramento and with local governments across the state. But Steinberg says the mandate is necessary because there are overlapping and convoluted systems of care that sometimes have differing goals and approaches.


Money and responsibility for homelessness programs are split between elected officials in cities and counties and the administrators of "continuums of care" -- the local and regional agencies created to handle funding and organize the distribution of services for homeless people.

But cooperation and coordination don't often happen, and some local governments aren't as aggressive at addressing homelessness as state officials would like.

"There is too much fragmentation," Steinberg said.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, another member of the task force, said the proposed mandate represented a way to build trust with residents and that the government was addressing what the report described as a "mounting catastrophe."


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