California governor seeks $1 billion to target homelessness

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FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2019, file photo, California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during an interview in Sacramento, Calif. Newsom said on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, that he is seeking $750 million to help pay rent for people facing homelessness, among other purposes, in the most populous state's latest attempt to fight what he called a national crisis. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

SACRAMENTO, CA – A billion-dollar investment last year has yet to curtail California's growing homeless crisis, and with the state awash in revenue, Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to spend a billion more on programs aimed at getting people off the streets.

He signed an executive order Wednesday creating what he intends to be a $750 million fund that providers could tap to pay rents, fund affordable housing or aid boarding and care homes. Newsom also wants to use vacant state property to house homeless people and is seeking changes to the state's Medicaid program to increase spending on preventive health care.

In addition, the Democratic governor said the final portion of $650 million in emergency homeless aid to cities and counties approved in June was being released Wednesday after a final federal homelessness count.

The report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found California's homeless population increased 16% last year, to about 151,000 people. That's more than a quarter of the national total.

President Donald Trump continued his criticism of California's Democratic leaders this week, and especially those in Los Angeles and San Francisco, for failing to adequately address homelessness. In a tweet, he called it a local issue but said that if city and state leaders “acknowledge responsibility and politely" ask for help, then his administration “will very seriously consider getting involved."

Newsom made no mention of Trump in his announcement but acted with an eye toward an inevitable economic downturn that wouldn't allow the state to spend billions on the problem.

Although California is projected to have a $7 billion surplus, the state's bipartisan legislative analyst said only $1 billion should be spent on programs that will last beyond the year.

Because Newsom's proposal on homelessness would eat up the bulk of that $1 billion, the governor proposed to “seed” the fund with one-time state revenue and called on philanthropic and private sector groups “to step up as well.”