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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

"Why would we want to warehouse people?" he said. "That was what was really in advocates' craw. They were not appreciating that we don't have to warehouse people."

Schaaf said she opposed the "right to shelter" plan because it focused on the short-term goal of getting people indoors and lacked the flexibility of a mandate in allocating resources, such as for rental assistance programs and affordable housing.

Having a mandate, she said, "really starts with accountability, and I think that is really a more successful place to start."

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and an adviser to the state task force, said the mandate, if approved, would accomplish the same thing as the "right to shelter" plan but without a requirement that homeless people accept services.

"This is about the duty of the government to ensure that shelter is available for everyone," he said. "We can do something without infringing civil liberties. Providing housing and forcing people to use it are two different steps."

The task force's recommendation likely will be discussed by the Legislature in the coming weeks, but it is far from certain that it will be adopted and put on the ballot for voters to consider.


Steinberg said the Legislature would have to come up with the final details of how the mandate would be implemented. But the task force, according to its report, has envisioned letting local governments take up to a year to come up with their own benchmarks and then be held to those goals in subsequent years.

If cities or counties miss their benchmarks, the state would have the ability to ask a court to intervene, possibly redirecting money and resources. The mandate, however, would not require that the state monitor or take legal action. Individuals would not have the right to sue.

Although the mandate would give the state legal authority to crack down, the task force also said the state needed to take the lead on creating a unified crisis response. "We lack clarity regarding which levels of government are or should be responsible for funding and implementing various aspects of a response to the crisis of homelessness," the task force said.

Ridley-Thomas compared what the task force had proposed to the resources that state and local governments devoted to making sure people were able to vote.


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