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California Gov. Newsom wants voters to approve billions more to help the homeless. Will it help?

Angela Hart, KFF Health News on

Published in News & Features

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California voters will decide March 5 whether to pump billions more dollars into combating the nation’s worst homelessness crisis, an investment Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom argues will finally provide the housing and treatment so badly needed by tens of thousands of homeless people.

Newsom is spearheading Proposition 1, a $6.4 billion bond he says would fund 11,150 new beds and housing units for people living on the streets with untreated mental illness or addiction, and ongoing capacity for 26,700 additional outpatient appointments. It would also alter how $3 billion to $4 billion in existing annual tax funding for mental health services is spent, funneling a hefty portion of it into housing.

Many authorities on mental health and homelessness agree California desperately needs thousands more housing units and treatment beds to successfully attack the growing public health crisis. Health and law enforcement groups have lined up behind the initiative, as have the mayors of the state’s major cities.

Homelessness statistics in California have risen a staggering 20% since Newsom took office in 2019, to more than 180,000 people — 68% of them on the streets and not in shelters. The numbers are growing despite Newsom’s unprecedented investment of more than $20 billion in homelessness programs, plus billions more for health and social services.

Yet many of the front-line workers implementing Newsom’s initiatives fear that Proposition 1 would simply pour more money into a broken homelessness response system that is largely failing to house those in need.

Rather than focus on getting homeless people into mental health and addiction programs — and ultimately into housing — many caseworkers say they waste precious time and taxpayer dollars searching for their homeless clients after encampments have been cleared by state and local officials, a policy Newsom has encouraged, not only for the safety of homeless people but for those in surrounding neighborhoods.

 

Once they locate their clients, advocates must help them — often repeatedly — obtain food, clothing, and medication refills, and replace official government documents like birth certificates and IDs. “You can’t get housing without that stuff,” said Afton Francik, an outreach worker with the Sacramento-based nonprofit Hope Cooperative, which is implementing several of Newsom’s homelessness and mental health initiatives.

Perhaps the biggest challenge they face, outreach workers and case managers say, is rebuilding the trust that took time to establish — and which they say is essential to getting people into treatment and housing.

“It makes it so much harder to even find people or help them get into housing because you have to go back and repeat that work you already did,” Francik said.

Newsom says California has placed at least 71,000 people indoors — either in permanent or temporary housing — since he took office in 2019. State money flows to cities and counties, which have opened at least 15,000 housing units and 2,485 residential treatment beds, plus additional outpatient capacity, during his tenure.

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©2024 KFF Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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