By Emily Andrews
SAN DIEGO, CA – On Jan. 12 in San Diego, California, Governor Gavin Newsom presented the California Blueprint, a budgeting plan of 286.4 billion dollars to combat “existential threats” such as homelessness and COVID-19. Two billion dollars of the plan will specifically target homelessness, with an emphasis on funding rapid rehousing strategies.
Newsom presented his plan after cleaning out a homeless encampment in San Diego. “I recognize that frustration, I see it every single day. These encampments in CA are unacceptable. The dirty streets in this state are unacceptable, the graffiti in this state is unacceptable, we have to do more and we have to do better,” he said. “No one wants to live like this.”
As of January 2021, 161,548 people in California were experiencing homelessness i.e., lacking a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. 40.9 per 10,0000 people in California were homeless, and in Los Angeles City and County, 72 percent of those who were homeless had no shelter at all. 8,030 of the nearly 162,000 homeless people in California were families with children, and 12,172 were unaccompanied 18- to 24-year-olds.
According to a report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), from 2019 to 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic first blazed through the world, homelessness in California increased 6.8 percent––the largest increase in any state in that time frame.
Last year in September 2021, Newson signed 31 affordable housing bills targeting homelessness, which would hold cities accountable for providing affordable housing. The California Comeback Plan committed 22 billion dollars to the creation of 84,000 new housing units, 100 million dollars in a grant program for low-to-moderate income homeowners for “accessory dwelling units,” and 800 million dollars for new or accelerated affordable and climate-friendly housing.
The action last year reportedly moved 58,000 homeless individuals off the streets and into housing and treatment, according to Newsom.
In the past, Newsom has been criticized for the government’s treatment of homeless people whose encampments have been swept. On Aug. 9 2021, Newsom took part in a homeless sweep of the Seabreeze Encampment in Berkeley and tweeted about how they were transitioning people into safe housing and mental health services. However, a journalist reported on Twitter that many of the displaced people were not given alternate housing.
California Blueprint’s proposed two billion dollar package will build upon the 12 billion dollar plan from 2021 for a total of 14 billion dollars. The California Blueprint is intended to eventually create 55,000 new housing units and treatment slots. The two billion dollars is intended for “immediate and short-term” solutions, including “rapid rehousing” in order to relocate those living outside in encampments, and to clear the streets of their shelters.
The new plan, the California Blueprint, “will double down on those efforts, focusing on clearing encampments, while also setting the groundwork for long-term systemic change with significant investments in mental health and substance abuse treatment to get vulnerable people off the streets,” Newsom said.
Of the proposed two billion dollars, 1.5 billion dollars will go towards housing for homeless people who need treatment and rehabilitation centers. 500 million dollars will go towards grants for local authorities to provide short- and long-term rehousing strategies, which the government calls “encampment resolution grants.”
The plan also includes an expansion of the Returning Home Well program, which provides for those leaving prison or jail, and widens Medi-Cal benefits to include a mobile crisis response for behavioral health care.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 20 to 25 percent of America’s homeless population suffer from severe mental illness. The state Health and Human Services Secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly, explains, “Behavioral health and homelessness are inextricably linked, and we have the chance to invest in the former to help prevent the latter.”
Other portions of Newsom’s 286.4 billion dollar budget proposal, which is nine percent larger than last year’s record spending plan, focus on COVID-19 initiatives, the increase in retail thefts, year-round wildfire prevention, climate solutions, abortion, a high-speed rail, and funding for K-12 schools.
In terms of COVID-19 crisis relief, Newsom committed 2.7 billion dollars to aid hospital workers in hiring additional staff and expand testing and vaccinations, as well as to expand access of Medi-Cal to all California residents, regardless of immigration status.
1.2 billion dollars of the budget proposal will go towards fire prevention initiatives such as forest thinning, building fuel breaks, and funding Cal Fire.
Additionally, 6.1 billion dollars will go towards phasing out the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035, and accelerate the transition towards zero-emission vehicles.
The largest portion of the plan, 119 billion dollars, will go towards K-12 schools to combat the reported plummeting enrollment and attendance in K-12 students, and another portion will fund additional room for students at Universities of California and California State Universities.