My View: Governor Newsom’s Full Court Press Attacks the Homeless Problem, but Is It Enough?


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

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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12 thoughts on “My View: Governor Newsom’s Full Court Press Attacks the Homeless Problem, but Is It Enough?”

  1. Tia Will

    Addressing your headline question: “…but is it enough?” Of course not if the “enough” mentioned means a 100% housed population. However, I do believe it is a strong step in the right direction.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Of course not “UNLESS” if the “enough” mentioned means a 100% housed population

      Not trying to put words in your mouth (I have no appropriate gloves), but did you accidentally omit the bolded word?  Or, intentional…

      Ironically, 100% housed might compel some folk (involuntary detention?) to be ‘housed’ (based on knowing a bunch of these folk, that is not a “given”)… but if you mean what we should strive for, if the homeless are willing, and willing to follow basic rules (‘abstinence’, non -violent behavior, seeking solutions/treatments/etc., to the pre-cursors [inc. MH issues]), I strongly agree…

      1. Alan Miller

        if the homeless are willing, and willing to follow basic rules (‘abstinence’, non -violent behavior, seeking solutions/treatments/etc.,

        You forget, WM, that abstinence is no longer a requirement.  That’s the definition of the poorly-worded Orwellian term: “Housing First”, i.e. Drugs First.

        1. David Greenwald

          “ Housing First is an approach to quickly and successfully connect individuals and families experiencing homelessness to permanent housing without preconditions and barriers to entry, such as sobriety, treatment or service participation requirements. Supportive services are offered to maximize housing stability and prevent returns to homelessness as opposed to addressing predetermined treatment goals prior to permanent housing entry”

          So here’s my question is it better to try to get them into the housing and then get them sober or is it better to try to get them sober while they are living on the streets?

        2. David Greenwald

          Acknowledged. But we do have to make public policy and from what I’ve seen, permanent supportive housing seems to be not only effective but relatively cost-effective

        3. Bill Marshall

          I didn’t forget, Alan…

          I state it should be not only a goal, but a part of a “contract“… a pre-condition, if you will… “thus far but no further” (Job 38:11)… the “use” ends  when the shelter is provided (except perhaps in an emergency, but not on-going)… I have no problem with efforts/costs to help keep folk ‘sober’.. but they have to commit to the effort.

          A two-way street… the homeless guy I worked with, failed twice… set up in a situation where if he stayed ‘clean’, he’d be housed and helped… that place only required 24 hours of being ‘clean’… that’s all I’d ask, but a commitment to abstinence, with appropriate support from others, would be the litmus test for anything beyond emergency shelter, in my view.

          I ‘gave up’ on that individual.  Not proud of it, but had to, to protect my psyche… but genuinely liked the dude.  It just wasn’t a “happening thing”…

          We might need to agree to disagree.

        4. Bill Marshall

          Alan… your 6:44 post is spot on… same is true for MH issues, and it is so often that addiction/use and MH are intertwined, often, big time…

          It is ‘rocket science’… I’d trust someone who says there is a easy solution, easy fix, like I would someone who asks me if I want to buy a bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

          Or someone who advocates that arterial bleeding can be remedied with a band-aid from Rite-Aid… or someone who believes cancer can be cured with “good gestures”… “feelgood”, guilt reducing (often very expensive) ‘gestures’…

        5. Bill Marshall

          David… see my responses to Alan’s comments…

          “Housing concurrently” might just be a better model… housing with a commitment to abstinence while in the housing… with appropriate ‘support’ (detox, counselling, etc.)…

          That model has actually worked for some, but have no cites … just ‘experience’ with folk I’ve known…

  2. Alan Miller

    “$500,000 per unit in Los Angele . . . 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.”

    Well, that’s 16,000 x 500,000 = $8 billion for LA alone, and that doesn’t count ongoing support services – statewide, would $50-$100 billion put a dent in the problem?  Not to mention what such a massive residential subsidy program would do to the value of all market-rate living spaces, while taking away massive dollars from working residents in the form of taxes.  The biggest losers:  the working lower-middle class.  And hey everyone, I hear if you move to sunny California and claim you live there, they give you a free place to stay right on the beach.

    What we’ll end up with is another massive 60’s-style government projects program, filled not with minorities, but with the drug addicted and mentally ill.  And unless we are ready to pony up for sufficient and permanent support services, will these places look in a few months any different than the dead-RV and tent cities of industrial Berkeley and Oakland?

    $750 million won’t even put a dent in it, and may just get sucked down a dry hole.

    Welcome my son, welcome to the machine:  The Homeless Industrial Complex.




    1. Bill Marshall

      Yeah… methinks someone carelessly added a zero, but if I’m wrong, does not bode well for anyone who isn’t currently housed, SF or MF.

      We do not intend to find housing, other than what we have, in CA… that might make us “1%-ers”…

      We paid ~ $35 / SF for our first house in Davis (1980)… ~ $100 / SF for our current house (1994)… part of that is inflation… current (2019) rates are more like ~ $290 / SF…

      Haven’t been in the rental market in Davis since 1979… so, won’t even try to address MF costs, much less “affordable” costs…

      1. Bill Marshall

        Sidebar:  when we bought our first house in Davis, when renting a five-plex unit for a year, the MF vacancy rate was ~ 0.25 %… even @ mortgage rates @ 12+%, the East Davis house (Davis Manor 13) which needed TLC, was a near “push” as to monthly costs (not counting prop tax, etc.).  Just perspective/experience, no conclusions…

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