This week Governor Newsom has put on a full court press on the issue of homelessness, which for the most part seems to be focused on creating more temporary shelter and creating alternative space.
In a major initiative this week, the governor announced that Los Angeles County would receive travel trailers and medical services tents as part of the his executive order on homelessness. A total of 30 travel trailers, as well as medical services tents, will be sent to Los Angeles County by February 7, 2020.
“We continue to deploy state resources to cities and counties across the state who are stepping up to tackle the homelessness crisis,” said Governor Newsom. “In Los Angeles County, we will work with local leaders to stand up travel trailers and medical services tents to house families. This is one of the many tools in the toolbox we are using to address the crisis head-on.”
The effort earned the praise of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, co-chair of the Governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors.
He said: “By deploying 30 of the state’s travel trailers to serve as interim housing in Los Angeles County, he is demonstrating the ingenuity, resourcefulness and urgency needed to tackle this undeniable emergency. Yesterday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors rose to the Governor’s challenge and moved to mount a Comprehensive Crisis Response to homelessness. This includes identifying vacant land and experienced service providers so that the people who receive the state’s trailers can find a safe haven. A deep sense of urgency is driving our work – we are ready to go!”
Meanwhile, the governor this week also asked the Trump administration to turn over surplus land owned by the federal government in California so cities could build housing for homeless people.
“Emergency shelter solves sleep and we agree this is an urgent priority,” Governor Newsom wrote in a letter Tuesday to Ben Carson, the U.S. secretary of HUD. “But only housing and services solve homelessness.”
The governor has already identified state-owned land and has solicited proposals from developers and local governments to build affordable housing projects on the sites. That was laid out in an executive order signed on Wednesday that would identify all properties that can be used on a short-term emergency basis to provide shelter for individuals who are homeless.
“Californians have lots of compassion for those among us who are living without shelter,” he said in a statement. “But we also know what compassion isn’t. Compassion isn’t allowing a person
suffering a severe psychotic break or from a lethal substance abuse addiction to literally drift towards death on our streets and sidewalks.
“As you engage California with offers of resources, I hope you will match our commitment to comprehensive solutions that go beyond temporary tent villages,” the governor wrote.
In our view the effort here is good, but without a commitment and resources for permanent supportive housing, it would seem to be only a small band-aid over a much larger problem.
There was a good piece in CalMatters this week on options to address the homeless problem. The piece notes that Governor Newsom is under fire for failing to appoint “a homelessness czar” to help the 150,000 Californians living in shelters and on the streets.”
But the piece notes that “homelessness is a complex and difficult problem, with options that range, at best, from imperfect to limited. Some choices might bring people in from the streets over the long term, but are expensive and time-consuming. Others might prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place, but are difficult to efficiently target.”
The piece points to as many as ten options. However, we would focus on a few. First, build more permanent supportive housing. This is what the homeless expert who gave a presentation back in December recommended as well.
The article notes: “Subsidized apartments that charge people experiencing homelessness minimal rents with no limits on how long they can stay. Built by nonprofit developers and paid for with public dollars, they ‘support’ residents with in-house or visiting case managers who bring tenants to health appointments, show them how to use appliances and connect them with job and safety net programs. Permanent supportive housing primarily helps the chronically homeless, who often have severe disabilities such as serious mental illness, drug addiction and physical ailments.”
Without this kind of housing, it is hard to imagine we get to the heart of the big problem – the chronic homelessness.
The problem, of course, is it’s expensive. They write that “the upfront cost of building it is a lot, especially where it’s needed most — $500,000 per unit in Los Angeles, for example.”
And that leads to this: “Newsom recently pledged $750 million in new emergency homelessness funding for the entire state. If you used all of that to build new permanent supportive housing in L.A., you’d get 1,500 units. Los Angeles County alone had nearly 16,000 chronically homeless people in 2019.”
That leads to a second option.
They write, citing a ” legal obligation for every city and county in California to provide shelter beds for every person experiencing homelessness, and a legal obligation for the homeless to accept shelter when offered.
“Advocates for ‘right to shelter’ cite New York’s success in using the policy to bring its homeless population indoors — New York has a much smaller rate of ‘unsheltered’ homeless than California. Detractors argue ‘right to shelter’ simply warehouses people experiencing homelessness and that in a world of finite resources, permanent housing should take priority.”
The problem here: “No reliable estimate exists for what ‘right to shelter’ would cost statewide. But it’s not cheap for New York, which spends nearly $2 billion annually on its shelter system. California has a much larger homeless population than New York, and would need more upfront investment to get new shelters built.”
Other options: sue cities, prevention, conversion, homeless courts, cabin communities and tiny homes, extremely low-income housing, tax empty homes, and finally do nothing.
In our view, suing cities puts the onus on cities when cities are under-resourced, and prevention is something we should look into – while solutions other than doing nothing are worth looking at but, really, we need permanent housing and shelters combined with mental health services.
—David M. Greenwald reporting