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Will state spend $20B on homelessness?

By Marisa Kendall

Bay Area mayors on Thursday urged the state to do something unprecedented - spend $20 billion in a multiyear effort to combat California's massive homelessness crisis.

Their proposal would dedicate $4 billion every year for five years to continue the historic efforts California has made to house and shelter people during the pandemic. That sum would be roughly half of the state's projected 2021 budget surplus when factoring in $26 billion California was allocated in federal stimulus money.

"This year's budget presents California with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to dramatically reduce homelessness if we can muster the collective courage and will to stand up for our most vulnerable neighbors," San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said, speaking with other members of the Big City Mayors coalition, which represents the state's 13 largest cities.

Democrats in both the state Assembly and Senate also are backing the proposal and called for the $20 billion, five-year investment when they released their 2021 budget priorities earlier this month.

If approved, it would be the largest allocation of funds dedicated to fighting homelessness in U.S. history, according to the mayors.

"Twenty billion is an appropriate large investment in California's largest problem," Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said. "It is something that we know our residents want - to see that we are actually going to bend the curve and not juggle each year with the uncertainty of whether or not we're going to get a one-time allocation and what the amount of that allocation is going to be." There are more than 160,000 people without homes in Califor- nia, according to the latest federal count. That's more than a quarter of the country's total homeless population.

In January, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed a 2021 budget that includes $1.75 billion in new investments for homeless housing. But California has no ongoing source of funding dedicated to the crisis, something lawmakers and homeless housing experts have long been pushing to change.

Newsom is expected to release a revised budget plan next month,



a version of which then will be passed by the Legislature this summer.

California launched ambitious projects to curb homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic as officials rushed to get people out of encampments and crowded shelters where the virus could run rampant.

The state sheltered more than 35,000 people in hotels and motels through its Project Roomkey program and created 6,000 units of long-term homeless housing through the Homekey program - which funded efforts by cities and coun- ties to convert hotels and other buildings into housing.

But questions remain about where people who found temporary refuge in hotel rooms will go once the pandemic ends, and experts say it's clear much more needs to be done. The money being sought from the state would go toward continuing those pandemic programs, as well as other solutions - such as tiny homes or modular housing - that some cities have implemented.

It would be spread among homelessness prevention, emergency shelter and permanent housing. Funding would be allocated to counties and major cities, likely depending on their size and populations of unhoused residents. The mayors believe local governments should be given broad authority to decide how to best spend their allotted dollars.

On Thursday, as mayors from California's largest cities spoke about the issue via Zoom, they set their backgrounds to pictures depicting some solutions they've already stood up in their own cities - from colorful tiny homes in Los Angeles to a modular interim housing village in San Jose to a hotel in San Diego.

"We all know what the proven strategies are," Schaaf said. "Our issue is scaling them." Contact Marisa Kendall at 408-920-5009.

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