We have a Crisis Says Gov Newsom

Homeless encampments have spread across the state. Photo courtesy Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a $214.8 billion state spending plan last week that he and leg­islative leaders are calling “the Affordability Budget” for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Taking effect July 1 after the governor hashed out differenc­es with the Assembly and Sen­ate, the budget includes $1.7 billion to fight homelessness, a problem that is affecting more African Americans per capita than any other group in the state. Of that money, $650 mil­lion will go to support county and city governments as well as regional homeless preven­tion agencies in their local ef­forts to decrease homelessness and increase their stock of af­fordable housing.

“Homelessness. What the hell is going on in our state?” Asked Gov Newsom at an event at the Capitol organized to mark the beginning of the new fiscal year.

“I agree with the critics. I agree with all of you,” said Gov. Newsom. “We have a cri­sis.”

The new funding represents the largest budget investment in affordable housing, home­less shelters and homelessness support services in the history of the state.

“We have come to agree­ment on a package of hous­ing measures,” said a joint statement from the governor, Senate pro Tem Toni Atkins (D- San Diego) and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood).

“One that creates incen­tives,” their statement contin­ued, “both sticks and carrots – to help spur housing produc­tion across this state.”

Large cities will receive a total of $275 million in grants, $190 million will go to counties and an additional $90 million is allocated to fund support and prevention programs.

The budget also provides $167 million for supportive housing primarily for mentally ill people and substance abus­ers.

Another $52 million is dedi­cated to fighting homelessness among college students. About 19 percent of Community Col­lege students in the state are homeless, according to a Tem­ple University study.

“This homelessness issue is out of control,” Newsom said when he presented his budget last month. “Californians are outraged. They are disgusted.”

With fines that could run as high as $600,000, the governor also plans to begin stronger en­forcement of state laws that re­quire county and city govern­ments to plan for new growth.

California, with its Gross Domestic Product of $2.7 tril­lion, boasts the largest econ­omy in the United States. But the state’s 130,000 homeless population is the largest in the country, too, accounting for nearly 25 percent of all people without a permanent residence in the United States.

The state also has the highest rate of unsheltered homeless people (about 75 percent) and it has seen the sharpest increase in homelessness in the country over the last 4 years.

In the Los Angeles area, the homelessness problem is dire. There are about 59,000 home­less people in Los Angeles County. That number repre­sents a spike of about 16 per­cent over last year’s total.

For African Americans, the numbers are worse. Although the total Black population is only about 9 percent, African Americans make up about 36 percent of L.A.’s homeless people.

In other Census tracts of the state where there are clusters of African-American residents – Alameda County and San Ber­nardino County, for example – the rates of homelessness for Blacks is also disproportion­ate. Take Alameda County, where Oakland is the largest city, African Americans make up about 28 percent of the population, but they account for nearly 70 percent of the county’s homeless people. And down south in San Bernardino County, African Americans make up about 9 percent of the county’s residents and com­prise about 15 percent of the homeless population.

In San Francisco, where Blacks only make up about 7 percent of the population, they account for about 36 percent of the city’s homeless.

A number of factors con­tribute to the high numbers of homeless Blacks in California. According to the Los Angeles Housing Services Authority (LAHSA), they include failing schools, a broken foster care system, high rents, the scarcity of available rental properties, criminal records, racial dis­crimination and more.

Personal setbacks like the loss of a job, a divorce, illness, etc., may drive families or indi­viduals into homelessness. In fact, less than 50 percent of Cal­ifornia’s homeless population are mentally ill or substance abusers. The majority, dubbed the “economically homeless,” fell upon hard times, missed a series of rent or mortgage pay­ments and lost their housing.

Also, more than half of Cal­ifornia’s renters are considered “rent burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income to keep a roof over their heads, according to a UC Berkeley report.

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