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Big City Mayors Call on Newsom to Increase Housing Funding, Address Homeless Crisis

The mayors of 13 of California’s largest cities Wednesday called on state lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom to provide greater and more permanent funding to address the state’s interconnected crises of homelessness, affordable housing and mental health care.

Members of the California Big City Mayors coalition met with legislators and the governor at the state Capitol in Sacramento and called on the governor to allocate $2 billion annually to the state’s Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention Program, known as HHAP, and $1.5 billion to the state’s Homekey program that has utilized a variety of housing options, including purchasing former hotels.

The coalition consists of the mayors of California’s largest 13 cities by population: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento, Long Beach, Oakland, Bakersfield, Anaheim, Stockton, Riverside and Irvine. The group’s chair, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, said cities have been making progress on creating housing to try to reduce their homeless and unsheltered populations, but said the mayors needed continued partnership with state lawmakers to address the scale of the problem.

“We acknowledge that it’s hard for many Californians to see these results and that’s because we’re simply not keeping pace with the number of people who are becoming newly homeless,” Gloria said.

He said funding needed to be made permanent, tied to practical goals, but also flexible for local leaders.

“Homelessness is solvable, but we need the resources to scale the projects and programs to have an impact,” Gloria said.

San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan echoed the call for flexibility in utilizing state funding in these areas and said the solution should involve a spectrum of housing options to address the imminent goal of getting people “indoors to safe, managed spaces.”

“For the first time in seven years we have reduced unsheltered homelessness in San Jose primarily because we were building emergency interim housing that gives people a private room with the door that locks, a private bathroom, a dignified safe space at a fraction of the cost of building long-term permanent housing,” Mahan said.

He said permanent housing is still needed, but cities should be focused on ending what he called a human rights crisis by focusing on getting people shelter through any means available.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said making the funding permanent would bring an element of predictability that has been missing from the state’s efforts to support cities, as budgets have gone up and down as the state faced recession, the pandemic, a temporary influx of federal dollars and is now facing another economic slowdown in coming fiscal years.

“The need in our cities is so significant,” Breed said.

HHAP funds have been given as grants on a yearly basis since 2018. Newsom’s most recent budget proposal includes $1 billion in HHAP funding only for the next fiscal year.

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said the issue was both a national one and a personal one.

“I want to first speak from the perspective of someone who was forced to live in my car,” Thao said. “The access to safe, permanent and dignified housing should not be seen as the American dream. It should be seen as the human right. It should be seen as dignified housing. It should be seen as [a] basic necessity. And this is why of course we are here today.”

The mayors also announced their support for Senate Bill 43, a bill authored by state Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, that would alter California’s Mental Health Services Act to provide permanent funding for more shelter beds dedicated to people experiencing mental health and addiction crises.

The Homekey program has allowed the mayors, who collectively serve about 11 million Californians, to create 15,755 new emergency shelter beds and interim homes, place 19,474 people into housing intervention programs and create 5,101 permanent homes, according to a report released Wednesday by the mayoral coalition.

Source: NBC Bay Area

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