Dan Walters | Homelessness Lingering Under Newsom


Homelessness is the political albatross hanging around Gavin Newsom’s neck, something that’s plagued him not only as governor but even earlier during his stint as mayor of San Francisco.

He promised to end homelessness in the city in 10 years. Two decades later, its streets are still home to thousands of unhoused people.

While running for governor he pledged to appoint a homelessness czar who would cut through red tape and solve the crisis. Later, when pressed by reporters about the promise, Newsom snapped, “You want to know who’s the homeless czar? I’m the homeless czar in the state of California.” 

As governor, he devoted almost an entire State of the State address to homelessness and under his administration the state has spent more than $24 billion on the crisis, but California continues to have the nation’s highest numbers and its highest rate vis-a-vis the overall population.

In recent months, Newsom has criticized local governments for using homelessness grants ineffectively, implying local officials are the chief impediments to success and threatening to withhold more money. They counter that without dedicated, multi-year streams of revenue they cannot create permanent programs.

In April, State Auditor Grant Parks sharply criticized the California Interagency Council on Homelessness, composed of Newsom administration officials, for lack of diligence in monitoring homelessness programs. “Until Cal ICH takes these critical steps, the state will lack up‑to‑date information that it can use to make data‑driven policy decisions on how to effectively reduce homelessness.”

Last weekend, Newsom forged a deal with legislative leaders on a 2024-25 budget, including another round of homelessness grants to local governments. It is accompanied by legislation that essentially strips the Cal ICH of much of its authority on the issue and shifts it to the state Department of Housing and Community Development with orders to closely evaluate how local officials spend the money.

“What’s happening on the streets has to be a top priority,” Newsom said earlier, declaring local officials will be held accountable. “People have to see and feel the progress and the change and if they’re not … I am not interested in continuing the status quo.

“I’m not interested in funding failure any longer,” he added. “So I’m going to speak for myself, just one guy that’s got three more appropriation cycles in front of him. I want to see results. Everybody wants to see results.”

Newsom defended his record on homelessness and touted the new hands-on approach during his State of the State address video.

“When it comes to America’s homelessness problem, California’s detractors have similarly offered nothing but rhetoric, moaning and casting blame,” he said in the written version of his address to legislators. “No state has done as much as California in addressing the pernicious problem of homelessness that too many politicians have ignored for too long.”

He told legislators, “We’re requiring cities and counties to account for how they spend taxpayer dollars to get people off the streets and sidewalks, out of tents, and into housing. So long as there are people living outdoors, so long as people are suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, or self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, our work is not done.”

Newsom’s recent words and actions imply a sense of urgency about making measurable progress on homelessness before his governorship ends in 2027 and he embarks on the next phase of his political career, whatever that may be. Otherwise, the images of California’s squalid encampments will inevitably haunt him, no matter how much he attempts to shift the blame to others.

Dan Walters’ commentary is distributed by CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.

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