What is CA getting for all its billions on homelessness?

This story appeared on Calmatters

Tents line up against a fence at a homeless encampment near Highway 180 in west Fresno on Feb. 11, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela for CalMatters

From CalMatters politics reporter Ben Christopher:

In 2021, state lawmakers made a request: The newly convened California Interagency Council on Homelessness should put together a “comprehensive view of the homelessness response system.”

In short, the legislators said: We’d like to know how much the state is spending to address its homelessness crisis, where the money is going and what we’re getting for it.

At a hearing Wednesday, they finally got their answer.

Sort of.

In what might be the first statistical birds-eye view of the state’s many-tentacled efforts to combat homelessness, the council’s report surveys all the Californians who received state-funded services directed at homelessness between 2018 and 2021. During those three years, the state spent nearly $10 billion.

The good news: 

  • The state provided services to more than 571,000 people, with the number of people served growing each year;
  • The number of shelter beds grew by roughly 17,000.
  • The money also helped build, or keep online, nearly 60,000 affordable housing units. 

The bad news:

  • The number of unsheltered Californians continues to swell;
  • Racial disparities among the state’s unsheltered population remain as stark as ever;
  • Of those who did make use of state-funded services, a majority did not move into a permanent home, and 17% ended exiting a program back into homelessness.

What the report did not address is how the state can spend its money more effectively. But it’s likely to provide fodder both for those who argue that the state needs to be supercharging its spending on homelessness, and for those who argue doing so would be throwing good money after bad.

  • Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, an Oakland Democrat: “We’ve sent people to the moon. We can solve homelessness in California.”

Push for accountability: The report lands at a time when “accountability” over homelessness spending is an increasingly bipartisan topic of interest in Sacramento. Gov. Gavin Newsom has pointed the finger at city and county governments and asked that certain housing grants come with strings attached.

Earlier this week, Assemblymember Luz Rivas, a Democrat from Arleta, obliged. She introduced a bill on Monday that would require cities and counties to make “tangible results” on getting people off the street and into homes before they receive homeless grants from the state. 

  • Assemblymember Laura Friedman, a Burbank Democrat: “It’s very frustrating for the general public when they hear that in the state, we’re spending billions – and that’s billions with a B – of dollars on homelessness and housing. And yet they don’t feel that they’re seeing enough of an impact in their communities.”
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Who decides election districts?

Long Beach residents from different districts participate in a commission meeting held at city hall, denouncing some of the proposed redistricting maps on Oct. 20, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
Long Beach residents participate in an independent redistricting commission meeting at City Hall, denouncing some proposed maps on Oct. 20, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

Lost amid the outrage last fall over an audio recording of three Los Angeles City Council members making racist comments was the fact that they were also caught secretly plotting to influence the decennial redistricting process to protect their seats.

While Californians voted in 2010 to establish an independent state commission to redraw legislative and congressional districts after the Census, political maps in most local communities continue to be done behind closed doors by elected officials themselves.

That may now be changing, writes CalMatters Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal. A new measure being introduced today by Assemblymember Isaac Bryan, a Democrat from Culver City, would expand the mandate to all California cities and counties with more than 300,000 people.

Supporters argue the commissions are better equipped to solicit community feedback on district maps and combat gerrymandering. But to get the bill passed this session, they’ll be up against local governments, who are loath to relinquish control, as well as Gov. Newsom, who vetoed a similar proposal last year.

Several other bills would require independent redistricting commissions in specific jurisdictions, including Sacramento County, as Sameea reports. Democratic Assemblymember Avelino Valencia of Anaheim introduced a measure to independently draw districts for the Orange County Board of Supervisors

  • Valencia: “I don’t believe politicians should be in charge of drawing their own districts. Having a degree of separation between the redistricting process and elected officials Is a good thing for democracy.”

Ballot languages: Another election-related bill introduced this week would require the Secretary of State’s Office to translate voting materials — including registration forms and the voter information guide — into all languages spoken by at least 5,000 adults of voting age statewide or at least 100 adults of voting age in any given county. 

Language access for voters became a flashpoint during the 2022 campaign, when Secretary of State Shirley Weber limited the number of languages for ballots and other materials — until advocacy groups raised the alarm, and she reversed the decision.    

Safety net for farmworkers

A patch of farmland flooded after a series of storms near the town of Planada on Jan. 17, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

A patch of farmland flooded after a series of storms near the town of Planada on Jan. 17, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

Devastating storms across California last month caused widespread power outages, destroyed several coastal communities and killed nearly two dozen people. They also put farmworkers — already among the state’s most vulnerable employees — out of work for weeks, as treacherously muddy roads left flooded fields inaccessible.

As CalMatters’ California Divide reporter Nicole Foy details, the steep losses in pay for those who can least afford it has bolstered a push for a new safety net program for “excluded workers.” It would provide undocumented laborers, who are not otherwise eligible for unemployment insurance, $300 per week for up to 20 weeks that they are out of work. An estimated 60% of farmworkers are undocumented.

  • Salvador Negrete, a Madera County farmworker: “Many farmworkers aren’t here legally and they don’t get government support. Many of us workers have families….We can’t afford our bills and everything is expensive.”

Legislative Democrats passed a similar bill last year, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Newsom in anticipation of a state budget shortfall. Colorado, meanwhile, became the first state to create a long-term unemployment fund for undocumented workers.

This year’s effort faces an even more dire financial climate; the Legislative Analyst’s Office on Wednesday projected that revenues will likely come in lower than Newsom estimated in his January budget plan, with its nearly $23 billion deficit.

But supporters argue that after sending out a multibillion-dollar tax refund to middle-class families last year, the state can afford to help undocumented immigrants. Read more about the debate in Nicole’s story.

Health worker wages: The excluded worker program won’t be the only contentious labor legislation this session. Union-aligned lawmakers introduced a measure Wednesday to set a $25 hourly minimum wage for employees of health facilities, including those who provide non-medical support services, taking statewide a battle that has already played out in a handful of Southern California cities. 

Expect a bruising fight at the Capitol, with hospitals, nursing homes and dialysis clinics lobbying heavily against the bill.

Student housing crunch

Hundreds of Cal Poly Humboldt students and campus community members protest against a housing policy change that left continuing students unsure where they would live next semester, at the campus quad on Feb. 8, 2023. Photo by Oden Taylor for CalMatters

Hundreds of Cal Poly Humboldt students and campus community members protest against a housing policy change that left continuing students unsure where they would live next semester, at the campus quad on Feb. 8, 2023. Photo by Oden Taylor for CalMatters

What if college was a cruise? But instead of sailing around the Caribbean, you slept on a floating barge in Humboldt Bay each night, then drove eight miles to your classes.

That’s one option under consideration at Cal Poly Humboldt, as officials scramble to house thousands of new students under its transformation into California’s third public polytechnic university.

The 5,700-student campus is preparing to double enrollment by the end of the decade, yet housing options are limited in this remote northern corner of the state. A planned expansion of on-campus dormitories and apartments will take years to finish.

That’s where the barge comes in. It’s one of “many creative solutions” the university is exploring to bridge the gap until new residences are built — it has already signed contracts with three nearby hotels for 350 beds — a dilemma that has exploded into tension over student safety and housing insecurity.

CalMatters College Journalism Network fellow Oden Taylor has more on the uproar in Arcata, an emblem of the growing student housing crunch statewide.

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CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The California Public Records Act grants access to government documents, but some agencies try to find ways to stonewall the law. 

A taller border fence at Friendship Park at the California-Mexico border would turn a once- beautiful vista filled with joy, family and togetherness into an ugly metaphor for U.S. immigration policy, write Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, board chairperson for The California Endowment, and Robert K. Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment.

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