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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

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that homelessness increased in California by more than 16% from 2018 to 2019, leaving over 151,000 Californians without permanent housing. Nearly 71% -- about 108,000 people -- are living outdoors in encampments or in vehicles, the highest percentage of any state in the nation.

Oakland has been hit especially hard. Homelessness climbed 47% from 2017 to 2019 in the Bay Area city, according to last year's point-in-time headcount. As mayor, Schaaf said she would welcome a mandate because it would ensure that surrounding communities weren't just adding to her city's problems.

"I need other cities to be doing their part because Oakland does not exist on an island," Schaaf said. "I believe Oakland would pass that accountability test."

Newsom has not suggested a mandate. But while presenting his proposed state budget last week, he pushed for more accountability and cooperation.

"It's about forcing collaboration at the regional level," Newsom said while unveiling his own plan, which includes more than $1.4 billion to address shelters and health care for homeless people, with more than half of that going directly to local services. "I can't perpetuate the status quo any longer."

The task force report comes as the state prepares to douse local governments with unprecedented levels of funding to address homelessness. In addition to the money that Newsom proposed in his budget, $640 million in one-time spending approved last year will begin to hit cities and counties in the coming weeks.


The mandate idea marks a step away from -- or at least around -- the controversy Steinberg sparked with his "right to shelter" idea last year.

That plan would have required a bed to be provided to every homeless person in the state and for homeless people to accept the help. Advocates fear the latter will lead to more law enforcement sweeps of encampments and infringe on people's civil rights.

Others panned the idea because they believed it would lead to a proliferation of large shelters that would indeed get people off the streets but not necessarily into permanent housing.

Ridley-Thomas called the blowback a "knee-jerk" reaction. The "right to shelter" plan had always been a starting point.


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