After investing an unprecedented $12 billion last year in housing and services for the homeless, Gov. Gavin Newsom is now turning to the huge campgrounds, slums and makeshift RV parks that have taken over the streets, parks and open spaces of California during COVID. -19 pandemic.
This winter, the Governor will release an unprecedented $50 million effort to help cities and counties clear out camps and accommodate people living outside. San Jose, Richmond and Santa Cruz are among those who may benefit from this. Newsom hopes to 10x that investment in next year’s budget and add $1.5 billion in housing for people with behavioral illnesses. Responsible for all of this will be the new Newsom State Council on Homelessness, co-chaired by none other than the person in charge of California’s COVID response, Dr. Mark Ghali.
“This is probably the only funding of its kind that we receive from the state only once in a lifetime,” said Michelle Milam, crime prevention manager at the Richmond Police Department and a member of the city’s organization to fight the homeless. operational group. “We have never seen such investments from the state in the camps.”
She and other local officials and nonprofit leaders who have battled the growing homelessness crisis for years with little government help are grateful and hopeful. But they say the money is not enough. Experts say the funds Newsom has given to the camps are one-time grants, not the kind of ongoing investment that cities need to find a solid gap in finding permanent housing for homeless Californians.
They acknowledge that focusing on the camps is a smart policy move by the governor, but moving people out of the camps into temporary shelters is not a solution if there is no affordable housing.
“I think we’d like to look at this a little more holistically,” said Christopher Martin, policy director for advocacy organization Housing California. “We need to address all aspects of homelessness, not just the camps.”
Richmond is one of more than three dozen cities and counties that have applied for one of Newsom’s new camp permit grants, which will be awarded by March 1st. While about $50 million is available, the state has received requests for $120 million. Newsom has proposed to allocate another $500 million in this year’s budget.
If chosen, Richmond would use the money to clear out a camp of more than 100 people living on Castro Street in cars, SUVs and trailers. Echoing the experience of many cities, such camps in Richmond have increased dramatically during the pandemic as shelters have reduced their capacity and federal health officials have recommended leaving the camps alone. With government money — Milam hopes to raise several million dollars — Richmond will create a housing trust fund exclusively for Castro Street residents to use for rent, training, car repairs and anything else that could help them move into stable housing.
“This is more than just a camp closure,” Milam said. “It’s a guarantee that people have the opportunity to successfully transition.”
San Jose also applied for a grant, requesting $2 million to accommodate people camped along the Guadalupe River trail between Arena Green and the Children’s Museum of Discovery.
And in Santa Cruz County, officials are hoping the money will help them pilot a new strategy that will get people involved in finding their own housing, said Robert Ratner, county director of Housing for Health. They will award “housing stipends” to camp residents and then work with residents to spend that money in the way that makes the most sense for them.
The Governor’s Office is also hosting a “100 Day Challenge” this year focused on homeless camps. Several counties, including Santa Cruz and Sacramento, will work with the Quick Results Institute on new solutions to the crisis. Sacramento County hopes to accommodate 43 people by April 14 during the program and begin searching for housing for an additional 43 people. Santa Cruz County hopes to accommodate 40 people and recruit 100 more.
And this year, Newsom launched a new agency to oversee the state’s efforts to combat homelessness, the California Interagency Council on Homelessness, co-chaired by Ghali and Business, Consumer Services and Housing Secretary Lourdes Castro Ramirez. The agency has been given new powers to hold cities and counties accountable. When seeking funding, local officials must now lay out detailed plans for obtaining the money. If they don’t meet certain criteria, they get less money.
Asked if Newsom’s strategies to reduce homeless encampments would work, Jason Elliott, a senior adviser to the governor, said they were already working.
“We understand that people are frustrated. But we are also proud of the 58,000 people who have gone off the streets since this pandemic began,” he said, referring to Newsom’s Roomkey project, which relocated homeless people to hotels, and Homekey, which created longer-term housing. . “That’s how much worse it would be.
But one-time grants aren’t everything, says Milam. For years, Richmond has been working to open up a secure parking lot for people living in motorhomes. After strong reactions from some neighbors, the city eventually dropped the idea. Milam says that the state should intervene here.
“We need support from the state. We are sinking,” Milam said. “Funding helps. We are very grateful for the funding. But there needs to be more at the political level to help us find some creative solutions to try and support the people.”
Angelina Peña, who lives in a van at a campsite on Richmond’s Castro Street, has lost faith that the state and her city can give homeless people the help they need. Peña, who makes $18 an hour working with the nonprofit Safe, Organized Spaces three days a week, dreams of owning her own home, opening a thrift store and regaining custody of her two sons.
A grant from the state could help her achieve these goals. But after many disappointments, Peña does not hold his breath.
“I’m not going to depend on them. I can’t, she said. “It’s hard to take their word for it because they failed.”