Chris Nichols
By Chris Nichols January 13, 2020

One year in, Gov. Gavin Newsom shows bold action, but California’s homelessness crisis deepens

During his first year as governor, Gavin Newsom took major steps to tackle California's increasingly-visible homelessness crisis. He approved $1 billion in his first budget to help cities build emergency shelters and signed 13 bills last fall, many to speed up shelter construction. 

This week, the Democratic governor ordered state agencies to find government property to house people living on the streets. He also proposed a new $750 million fund to pay for rent and build housing for homeless people, along with another nearly $700 million to address health needs for the state's chronically homeless. 

"On the issue of homelessness, we are investing over a billion dollars yet again to address the issue that defines our times," Newsom said at a press conference in Sacramento on Friday announcing his budget for the upcoming fiscal year. 

Advocates have praised Newsom's leadership, saying he's made historic investments and steady progress on his promise to tackle this human emergency. PolitiFact California's review of the governor's first year shows bold action, but also a growing state crisis that could become a political liability for the governor. 

In the year before Newsom took office, California's homeless population jumped 16 percent to 151,278 people, according to a report released last week by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. During the same period, January 2018 to January 2019, the nation's total increased just 3 percent. 

The report also found 70 percent of California's homeless people are unsheltered, meaning they live on the street, in a car or abandoned building. That's a slight uptick in the share who are unsheltered. 

A challenge that will 'take decades' to solve

Chris Martin is a legislative advocate on homelessness at the nonprofit Housing California. He said Newsom's budget proposals show the crisis remains a top priority.  

"These kind of commitments, we've never seen before in state government," Martin said. "He came in and really made an impact right away.

He said he was particularly pleased with Newsom's plan to pay for rental assistance for homeless people, calling such a move both a short-term and long-term fix. 

Martin said it's not realistic that Newsom will fully solve the problem.

"It's a challenge that's decades in the making and will take decades to get out of," he added. 

'People want this resolved now'

Politically-speaking, Newsom doesn't have that much time. 

"People want this resolved now," said Mike Madrid, a Sacramento-based Republican political consultant.

The state's emergency is so visible and stark, Californians will judge the governor by what they see on the streets, not just his actions at the Capitol, he added.

"There is going to have to be less tents under freeway overpasses," Madrid said. "There's going to have to be less people sleeping in sleeping bags on cardboard mattresses on the sidewalks. And if that doesn't happen immediately, this could blossom into a full-fledged political problem for the governor." 

Poll shows mounting concern

Californians are growing more concerned about the issue. A Public Policy Institute of California survey in October found 15 percent cited homelessness as the state's biggest problem, tied with the economy for the top problems overall. It was the first time homelessness has ever been ranked at the top in more than two decades of PPIC surveys.  

The poll was taken in mid-September, about the same time President Donald Trump ramped up his criticism of California's homeless crisis and its state leaders, Newsom chief among them. The president has continued to attack Newsom over the issue through his Twitter feed. 

"California and New York must do something about their TREMENDOUS Homeless problems. They are setting records!" Trump tweeted last month. "If their Governors can't handle the situation, which they should be able to do very easily, they must call and 'politely' ask for help. Would be so easy with competence!"

Newsom was asked about Trump's criticism during a press conference last week and responded: "He's tweeting, we're doing something. We don't need him to identify this problem." 

We found Newsom hasn't moved forward on every campaign pledge on homelessness. Running for governor, he promised to appoint a cabinet-level homelessness czar ‒ a promise we rated 'Stalled' last fall after a lack of action. Newsom offered his latest explanation at the news conference last week: "You want to know who the homeless czar is? I'm the homeless czar in the state of California." 

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who co-chairs the governor's statewide commission on homelessness, said Newsom has accomplished quite a bit despite the criticism he's faced.  

"He is the first governor ever, at least in my memory, who is prioritizing homelessness and mental health," Steinberg told CapRadio in an interview this week. "And he deserves an enormous amount of credit for it. He's going to need a lot of help because he can't do it alone." 

Steinberg said he does not think that Californians expect Newsom to solve the issue. 

"But they rightfully expect that we're going to do everything at every level of government to consolidate resources, to create a sense of urgency and to make the problem better. And that's what Gov. Newsom's proposals begin to do," the mayor added. 

Here's specifically what Newsom pledged during his campaign and what we're tracking:

"Expand social services, healthcare (including mental health), bridge housing, and permanent supportive housing" for homeless people.

-- Gavin Newsom for Governor 2018 website

Newsom's budget and legislative actions represent progress on this stubborn, complex problem. We continue to rate his promise 'In the Works.'


In the Works — This indicates the promise has been proposed or is being considered.

Track Gov. Gavin Newsom's progress, or lack thereof, on his campaign promises on our Newsom-Meter page.

Chris Nichols
By Chris Nichols October 4, 2019

Gavin Newsom promised to expand homeless services. How is he doing?

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed to solve California's homelessness crisis, a problem that has deepened in cities big and small since he took office in January. 

Running for governor, he pledged to appoint a cabinet-level homelessness czar ‒ a promise we rated 'Stalled' last month after a lack of action. 

But he also committed to expanding homeless services, one of a dozen specific promises PolitiFact California is tracking on the Newsom-Meter

Here's what he pledged:

"Expand social services, healthcare (including mental health), bridge housing, and permanent supportive housing" for homeless people.

-- Gavin Newsom for Governor 2018 website

We rated that promise 'In the Works' in February after Newsom called for spending $625 million on services for homeless people in his first state budget and for speeding up the construction of homeless shelters and housing through a streamlined review process. 

Eight months later, we wanted to know what additional progress he's made, and whether there's evidence to change our rating or keep it the same. 

'More money than we've ever seen'

Our look at Newsom's actions comes as Californians are growing more concerned over the homeless crisis. A Public Policy Institute of California survey released this week found 15 percent cited homelessness as the state's biggest problem, tied with the economy for top problems overall. 

We examined the budget Newsom approved in June, as well as a package of 13 homelessness bills he signed last week, many of which are designed to speed up shelter construction. 

The spending plan includes $1 billion for homelessness, an historic amount according to the governor and advocates for homeless people. It includes $650 million in one-time funds to build and expand "emergency shelters and navigation centers, rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing, job programs, and for innovative projects like hotel/motel conversions," according to the state's budget summary

"The budget is more money than we've ever seen," said Sharon Rapport, associate director of the California Policy Corporation for Supportive Housing. "Of course, I'm an advocate. So, I think he could do a lot more." 

Newsom should, for example, make this year's one-time funding permanent, suggested Rapport, who serves on the governor's Council of Regional Homeless Advisors. The state also needs to better coordinate how money goes out the door, she said, noting a cabinet level secretary would help with that effort.

In a news release last week, the governor agreed with the need to distribute funds more quickly and urged the council to identify ways to do that. He also praised the state's early progress boosting homeless services. 

"Homelessness is a national emergency that demands more than just words, it demands action," Newsom said. "State government is now doing more than ever before to help local governments fight homelessness, expand proven programs and speed up rehousing."

Funds for people at risk of becoming homeless 

The governor also ramped up funding for several programs that could help those at risk of becoming homeless, said Anya Lawler, a housing advocate at Western Center on Law and Poverty, who also serves on the council. 

That includes a $600 million increase of the state Earned Income Tax Credit, which will expand the number of low-income Californians who receive the credit from 2 million to 3 million. It also includes Newsom's expansion of Medi-Cal to undocumented young adults, Lawler said.  

"Unfortunately, this year's budget didn't include funding to restore massive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) grant cuts from a decade ago, which we hope will be on the Governor's agenda in the near future. This is critical since the fastest growing segment of the newly homeless is seniors," she added. 

Package of homelessness bills

Several of the bills Newsom signed are meant to speed up the construction of homeless projects and give cities and counties more control over that process. For example, AB 1197 by Asm. Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, exempts supportive housing and shelter projects from certain environmental reviews in the city of Los Angeles. 

AB 143 by Asm. Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Los Angeles, allows Alameda and Orange counties, including all of the cities in those counties, plus San Jose, to declare a shelter crisis to suspend state health, planning, zoning and safety standards to expedite construction. 

"I think it's a beginning," Lisa Hershey, executive director of Housing California, said of Newsom's bill signings and budget. She added the governor can leave "a deeper mark" on the crisis by signing a few additional bills, including AB 1482.

That bill would cap rent increases at 5 percent plus the cost of inflation during any 12-month period. The maximum combined increase per year would be set at 10 percent. 

Newsom worked with lawmakers and business groups in late August to come to an agreement on that bill. He is expected to sign it this month. The governor's news release includes a full list and summary of the homelessness bills he signed last week.

Conclusion

Newsom's budget and the legislation he signed represent a large step forward on his promise to expand homeless services. They are evidence that he's not only proposed solutions but is following through on them. 

We'll continue to track this topic, including whether the added funds and fast-tracked construction plans quickly translate into actual, on-the-ground expansion of social, healthcare and housing services Newsom pledged. 

For now, the governor's promise remains 'In the Works.'


In the Works — This indicates the promise has been proposed or is being considered.

Track Gov. Gavin Newsom's progress, or lack thereof, on his campaign promises on our Newsom-Meter page.

Chris Nichols
By Chris Nichols February 25, 2019

What has California Gov. Gavin Newsom done so far for the homeless?

During his run for governor, Gavin Newsom said California needed state leadership "laser-focused" on its homeless crisis.

"We've been managing this problem for too long; it's time to solve it," Newsom wrote on his campaign website.

"I want to be held accountable on this issue, and I want to be disruptive of the status quo," Newsom added in an interview with the Sacramento Bee last July, while touring San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood, where many of the city's homeless live. "I'm willing to take risks. I'm not here to be loved. What's going on is unacceptable, and it is inhumane."

Newsom, a Democrat and San Francisco's former mayor, pledged during the campaign to create a comprehensive set of housing and health services to help the state's 130,000 people without a home.

PolitiFact California is tracking now-Gov. Newsom's progress, or lack thereof, on this and other promises through our Newsom-Meter.

Specifically, here's what he pledged:

"Expand social services, healthcare (including mental health), bridge housing, and permanent supportive housing" for the homeless.

-- Gavin Newsom for Governor 2018 website

California is home to one quarter of the nation's homeless people, though it represents just 12 percent of the country's overall population. It also has the highest share of unsheltered homeless people, 69 percent, of any state.

Two years ago, California's homeless population jumped nearly 14 percent as the nation's remained flat; last year, it declined 1 percent.

Has Newsom made progress on this pledge? We checked his efforts so far.  

Our research

Newsom's January budget proposal shows the clearest evidence of his progress. It calls for $625 million in funding for homeless programs, according to a recent review by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office.

SOURCE: California Legislative Analyst's Office report on Gov. Newsom's spending proposals on homelessness.

It proposes $500 million in one-time funds for cities and counties to plan and build emergency shelters, navigation centers or supportive housing. Of that total, $300 million would go to regional planning for the projects and $200 million would be awarded to cities that show progress developing them. The navigation centers would offer services to homeless people on site such as drug and alcohol counseling.

The governor's budget would also spend $100 million in one-time money to fund housing and supportive services for the homeless, or those at risk, with a focus on the mentally ill. Additionally, it includes $25 million annually to help individuals who are homeless and disabled apply for disability benefits.

Finally, Newsom in January said he'll seek legislation to streamline environmental laws to speed up the construction of homeless projects.

'Miles and miles different than our previous governor'

We spoke with two advocates for the homeless who said they're impressed, at this point, with Newsom's moves.

"I think he (Newsom) has some ambitious goals, and I think we're still really early on— we're 30 days in," said Chris Martin, a legislative advocate for Housing California, "And to think we've gotten this far already with him is really kind of a testament to his goals."

Making homelessness a statewide priority, "is miles and miles different than our previous governor who thought this was more of a local challenge," Martin added.

Newsom's budget and statements on homelessness show he's "headed in the right direction," added Sharon Rapport, associate director of the California Policy Corporation for Supportive Housing.

Along with his campaign promise to expand services, Newsom pledged to appoint a Homeless Secretary to lead an Interagency Council on Homelessness.

A spokesman for the governor said Newsom still plans to make that appointment, but offered no timeline. We'll assess the progress on that promise in a future update.

Finally, during Newsom's State of the State Address this month, he announced Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg will lead his newly created Commission on Homelessness and Supportive Housing. He said the commission's goal is to address the underlying causes that keep people on the streets.

Our rating

Gavin Newsom promised in his run for governor to expand a suite of housing and health services for the homeless.

The $625 million Newsom proposed for those services, including for the homeless with mental illness and other disabilities, along with his call to streamline environmental reviews for homeless projects, demonstrate early progress.

But Newsom hasn't fulfilled anything yet. The Legislature must still vote on his proposals.

For now, we rate Newsom's promise "In the Works."


In the Works — This indicates the promise has been proposed or is being considered.

PolitiFact California intern Sami Soto contributed research and writing for this story. 

How the Newsom-Meter works:

We'll publish updates on Newsom's progress, or lack thereof, on each of 12 campaign pledges. We will rate outcomes, not intentions or proposed solutions, the same standard used for PolitiFact's other promise meters.

The Newsom-Meter has six levels:

Not Yet Rated — Every promise begins at this level and retains this rating until we see evidence of progress — or evidence that it has stalled.

In the Works — This indicates the promise has been proposed or is being considered.

Stalled — There is no movement on the promise, perhaps because of limitations on money, opposition from lawmakers or a shift in priorities.

Compromise — Promises earn this rating when they accomplish substantially less than the official's original statement but when there is still a significant accomplishment that is consistent with the goal.

Promise Kept — Promises earn this rating when the original promise is mostly or completely fulfilled.

Promise Broken – The promise has not been fulfilled. This could occur because of inaction by the executive or lack of support from the legislative branch or other group that was critical to its success. A Promise Broken rating does not necessarily mean that the executive failed to advocate for the policy.

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