The visibility and scale of homelessness in California have exposed Newsom and other Democratic leaders to relentless criticism. Conservative media outlets regularly broadcast images of people living on the streets while portraying San Francisco and Los Angeles as failed cities.
Newsom has budgeted billions of dollars to help local governments move people into permanent housing. But the governor said on Thursday that local plans to secure those funds fell woefully short, estimating they would collectively reduce homelessness by a mere 2 percent over four years. The governor informed mayors about his plans on Wednesday night and said he intended to convene local officials later this month.
“At this pace, it would take decades to significantly curb homelessness in California — this approach is simply unacceptable. Everyone has to do better — cities, counties, and the state included,” he said.
The governor has regularly lamented the state of homelessness in California, saying public officials are failing to act with enough urgency. He has focused in recent months on encampments, allocating funds to help local governments move people out of camps and staging public appearances in which he cleans up trash near tents under freeways. His office issued a news release in August touting the clearing of more than 1,250 sites on state land over a 12-month period.
“These encampments in California are unacceptable,” Newsom said during his budget presentation this year.
That encampments push has at times fueled tension with local governments. The Newsom administration and city of Oakland locked into a protracted standoff earlier this year over a sprawling, multi-block encampment during which Newsom threatened to withhold $4.7 million in aid. A judge initially blocked the governor’s effort to move people out, arguing officials were trading blame without locating other accommodations for the camp’s residents.
Funding for behavioral health has been another aspect of Newsom’s homelessness plan. The policy centerpiece has been a newly-enacted civil courts program allowing the state to mandate treatment plans for people with severe mental health or substance abuse issues. Newsom signed the program into law earlier this year.
The governor has also taken a more aggressive approach toward local governments on housing development, repeatedly intervening when the state concludes cities and counties are not planning to add enough homes to ease a statewide housing shortage. His administration recently launched an unprecedented review of San Francisco’s housing approval process.