Acting under pressure from Gov. Gavin Newsom, the 58 counties of California unveiled a plan on Thursday, March 16 to reduce homelessness by emphasizing transparency, data sharing, better coordination with the state and legislation that removes regulatory barriers blocking new shelters and affordable housing projects.
The “At-Home” plan was released by the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) and billed as a first-ever blueprint by the counties to work together in a coordinated fashion aimed at reducing homelessness and preventing those at risk from becoming homeless.
“It is completely unacceptable to have 170,000 homeless residents in this state. That’s where At Home (plan) comes from,” said Graham Knaus, CEO of CSAC during a virtual news conference.
“We have a system for education, child welfare, criminal justice, but not for those unhoused or in danger of being unhoused. That is not acceptable,” Knaus said.
Six supervisors from the counties of Alameda, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Stanislaus and Tuolumne, who are also CSAC board members, spoke about different aspects of the plan, which includes dozens of recommendations that would have to be implemented by the state legislature or the governor.
Their remarks illustrated a possible double-edged sword going forward. The supervisors agreed the plan outlines more cooperation among fellow county boards as well as state and federal agencies. But many also criticized the state for putting funding in silos wrapped in red-tape that precludes a continuum of care.
When it comes to obtaining funding for mental health facilities, Los Angeles County has asked the state to waive certain requirements that block such funds. “We are working with the state to file a waiver to increase (mental health treatment) bed capacity,” said Kathryn Barger, L.A. County supervisor of the Fifth District, which includes the Antelope and San Gabriel valleys.
On the issue of developing affordable housing, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson asked for legislation that streamlines the funding process. For one housing project in his county in Northern California, funding was obtained from 12 different state grant programs. “These could be consolidated,” he said.
The plan seeks changes to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which can increase the time it takes to move from concept to planning to construction. Carson said projects including new shelters, temporary housing and permanent, affordable housing should be exempted from CEQA review.
The plan also asks for legislation that would provide tax credits to develop low-income housing.
Newsom in early November held back $1 billion in promised state funding for the counties and cities, saying their plans for addressing housing issues were weak and would collectively reduce the state’s homeless population by just 2% over the next four years. He announced the funding on Nov. 18, but asked for more robust plans.
Also on Thursday, Newsom announced his administration plans to purchase 1,200 tiny homes and use the California National Guard to distribute them to cities and communities across the state. The CSAC members welcomed the governor’s action.
Barger said her board has set a 20% homeless reduction goal for L.A. County, which has about 70,000 unhoused individuals, according to an official 2022 point-in-time count.
“We understand the governor’s frustration on progress on homelessness,” said Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington. “We can’t provide all the housing and beds that are needed. A partnership is needed to create a system that says who is going to do what.”
The CSAC plan does not specify a reduction goal, saying that depends on availability of resources.
The supervisors all suggested finding new ways for counties and cities to share data on new housing placements and homeless count data.
“There is no system that identifies who is being housed and by what manner. All that needs to be clear so we can have local accountability,” Knaus said.
Washington said accountability is a key plank in the CSAC plan. “Any and all efforts to address homelessness will fail without accountability. We all need to be on the same page and everyone needs to know what they are supposed to do,” he said.
Source: Orange County Register