Senate and Assembly Republicans sent a joint letter to Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday, urging him to call for an Extraordinary Special Session of the Legislature to immediately address the problem, rather than waiting until later in the year.
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The lawmakers noted in their letter to the Governor that federal studies had shown that California had 47% of the entire country’s homeless population, with the top four out of five cities with the most homeless (Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Rosa) being in California. They also noted that COVID only exacerbated homelessness and related issues such as housing in the last few years.
With California now expected to break its homeless spending record, and looking to spend $4.8 billion in the next two years, along with the failure of several stop-gap homeless programs during the pandemic, such as the failed Project Roomkey in mid-2020, the GOP said that California needs to defocus on the “housing first” homelessness plan that the state has had for several years and move to less expensive and more effective plans that focus on mental health, drug, and alcohol treatment to help stop the homelessness cycle.
Specifically, the GOP lawmakers noted four areas that the state should focus on going into 2022. The first point is the Assessment and Accountability of Homelessness programs, where state and local homelessness spending would need to be closely monitored for success and find out which problems don’t work and why. The second would be Focus and Improvement of Homelessness Programs, to better understand and coordinate their funding.
Next would be to Prioritize New Funds on Building Critical Infrastructure for Homelessness Programs, which would put saved funds from misused financial allocations in the previous two categories and put it into mental health. As California has among the lowest rates of inpatient psychiatric beds, the numbers would be increased, along with more mental health staff, to better treat homeless people in need of help. The final point would be Targeted Prevention & Emergency Services, which would increase accountability for helping more at-risk homeless such as former foster youth, veterans, domestic violence victims, and others.
Several lawmakers said in later statements that the renewed focus would form a new background and move away from the more failed homeless policies of the past.
“We have been wrestling with this problem for decades now, and it always seems to get worse,” said Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel). “It’s time for real results, most of all for the countless homeless people suffering in our neighborhoods and communities. A Special Session will bring needed focus. We can, and must, do better.”
Assemblywoman Janet Nguyen (R-Huntington Beach) agreed, even giving a recent experience of a dangerous encounter with a homeless addict.
“California is spending more money on solving the homeless issue than ever before yet we have over 70,000 more people experiencing homelessness than the second closest state in the nation,” Assemblywoman Nguyen said. “My family and I experienced this shocking reality firsthand 3 nights ago when a homeless man on drugs attempted to break into our backyard. I am frightened for my children’s and family’s safety and the safety of all Californians. We must come together to discuss and find solutions to this growing problem. I look forward to the governor’s response.”
A proposed new focus on homelessness
While homeless advocates and Democrats in the legislature did not respond to the letter as of Friday, many homeowner groups and safety organizations said that the refocus on mental health treatment could prove to be more effective than the homeless housing system currently in place.
“Housing is broken right now,” explained Blaine Rider, a San Diego-area head of a Homeowners Association, to the Globe on Friday. “We have a lot of issues with homeless people wandering into the neighborhood. Believe it or not, we don’t have problems with all of them. Some even come in to do odd jobs and are trying to pull themselves up. And the pay is good, $20-$30 an hour for some jobs, like digging a hole for a new pool. You got to start somewhere.”
“But the ones that have mental issues, shower using hoses from our lawns, defecate in front of houses, park their campers overnight in places where you can’t park, it’s worrying.”
“These housing programs are failing. We can’t let them freeze to death, but if we’re putting billions in and not housing many in return, obviously something went wrong. Treating their mental health would be a great start. It would give them a solid foundation, and in turn, make it easier to get a job and housing. California should definitely help people get affordable housing and have job resources, and a way to better their mental health and overcome addictions would also be one of those significant steps out.”
As of Friday, the Governor has not responded to the letter.
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