Governor’s Advisors on Homelessness Recommend Comprehensive Crisis Response

Governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors meets in Sacramento to issue their interim recommendations to Governor Gavin Newsom.

Governor Gavin Newsom received a series of recommendations from his Council of Regional Homeless Advisors, including a 40-point Comprehensive Crisis Response Strategy and a proposal to establish a statewide mandate that would require local and state government to create the housing and supportive service capacity necessary to substantially reduce homelessness.

The 13-member Council, chaired by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, emphasized that “urgency should drive our response” and that homelessness must be viewed as “a humanitarian crisis tantamount to any sustained natural disaster.” A quarter of the nation’s homeless population – about 150,000 people — lives in California, more than half of them outdoors.

The Council report recommends the Legislature place a constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot that would create a “legally enforceable, results-based, accountability mandate” requiring state and local governments to provide resources for and remove barriers to the creation of both interim and permanent housing. The Council recommends making the mandate legally enforceable through a public right of action in the courts.

Council members also endorsed many recommendations to guide specific budget and policy actions for the beginning of the 2020 legislative session and called for appointing a “single point of authority for homelessness in state government.”

The Council prioritized:

  • Preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place by strengthening renter protections, cracking down on rent gouging, and providing a legal defense against evictions;
  • Streamlining the construction of permanent supportive housing, affordable housing, and service-enriched temporary shelters, especially on public land;
  • Once people are housed, providing them with rent subsidies and other support to remain housed;
  • Maximizing the use of healthcare and mental health care funds for extremely vulnerable populations;
  • Breaking the cycle between homelessness and the criminal justice system by investing in program that safely divert the mentally ill from jail into treatment.

Some of the recommendations can be operationalized immediately with the Governor’s recent executive order, and upon the state Legislature’s approval of additional funding to tackle homelessness this fiscal year.

“Everyone agrees that homelessness is a crisis of epic proportions, yet everything that government does to alleviate it is currently voluntary,” said Mayor Steinberg. “There is no housing production requirement, there is no requirement to bring people indoors, there is no legal consequence for failing to do so.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said, “The Comprehensive Crisis Response Strategy is a road map for boldly addressing the moral and civic crisis of our time. We thank the Governor for appointing this Council and for recognizing that we are in the midst of an emergency, and that we need ingenuity and prudence to right the course of our State’s history.”

In its letter to the Governor, the Council said, “California must have a set of clear public policies that scale up what we know works to prevent and end homelessness to a level required to abate this mounting catastrophe, that rationally prioritizes housing and services based on need, and that prevents the dramatic spike in homelessness for ever happening again.”

Quotes from members of the Governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors:

“Homelessness has been devastating for extremely low-income Californians, particularly for communities of color, and for far too long we have refused to make the structural changes necessary to address the root causes,” said Anya Lawler, Policy Advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “The crisis may seem intractable, but with thoughtful policy, adequate resources, and a sustained commitment to evidence-based solutions, we can turn things around. I am heartened that my fellow council members all agree that ending homelessness is both a moral imperative and an obligation on the part of all levels of government. Nobody should lack access to safe, stable, permanent housing they can afford and the resources they need to thrive in the 5th largest economy in the world. We can and must do better to tackle this crisis humanely. I look forward to continuing to work with the Governor, the co-chairs, and the council to get the job done.”

“Our report reflects not only the imperative for urgency in responding to our crisis of homelessness, but also the critical dimension of ensuring that all state resources – existing and newly proposed —must be employed in a way that ensures both seamless collaboration and mutual accountability between all local governments in each region; and ensuring that these resources are rigorously directed towards proven housing-first services for unsheltered people, and to very narrowly targeted and evidence-based prevention services for uniquely vulnerable populations,” said Will Lightbourne, former Director of California’s Department of Social Services.

“The evolution of the Task Force strategy from burdening homeless people to obligating elected leaders to resolve the crisis is a tribute to the patient and insightful leadership of Chairs Steinberg and Ridley-Thomas,” indicated Task Force Member Philip Mangano, formerly homeless czar under Presidents Bush and Obama. “They navigated the flurry of ideas from across the state and in the Task Force to craft a strategic frame to resolve unsheltered homelessness for the state’s Homelessness Czar, Governor Newsom.”

“The Council’s findings are both a clear call for all levels of government to commit to dramatically reduce homelessness and a reasonable framework to achieve that goal – a call to urgency that is reflected Governor Newsom’s budget proposal. Even as our county human assistance departments work diligently to deliver supportive services and housing to people experiencing homelessness today, poverty and astronomical housing prices are forcing more Californians out of their homes than we can bring into shelter,” Frank Mecca,Executive Director, County Welfare Directors Association of California. “For this reason, CWDA will continue working to focus resources on prevention and early intervention, particularly for Californians over age 50 and former foster youth who are especially vulnerable to economic forces beyond their control. CWDA is grateful for the leadership of Mayor Steinberg and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, and will continue to support the Council in advancing effective, and sustainable solutions.”

“I am very hopeful with Governor Newsom’s truly significant commitment to homelessness as a priority,” said Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez. “His state budget proposal and comprehensive response provide plans of action and policies to implement in our communities and throughout the State of California. By focusing on prevention, diversion and intervention, we will no longer just deal with the symptoms, but do more to address the root causes of homelessness.”

“The letter promotes a bold vision, while acknowledging that housing solves homelessness. Toward that vision, it advances a moral and legal obligation to scale up investment, coordinate resources, and create a strong leadership structure in California,” said Sharon Rapport, Director of California State Policy for the Corporation for Supportive Housing. “I applaud the Governor and his staff for giving the Council the freedom to be bold, and the co-chairs and fellow Council members for coming together to craft this vision.”

“When something matters we make it the law. When we wanted clean drinking water, public education, or to end racial discrimination, we made it the law,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. “It’s time to make ending homelessness the law, and that must start with assuring Californians that governments will be held accountable for doing all they can with the dollars and powers they have now.”