Mayor Lee Brand’s pledge to seek $20 million in state funding to combat homelessness in Fresno came one step closer to being achieved today.

On the steps of the California Capitol, Brand stood with mayors from California’s ten other largest cities and a bipartisan group of legislators to promote the creation of a Homeless Persons Services Block Grant program.

News Analysis

Drew Phelps

“My oldest daughter, who struggled with drug addiction, spent nearly two years homeless on the streets of Fresno,” Brand said. “So I know the heartache and the pain that parents and family members go through.” —   Fresno Mayor Lee Brand

In brief comments to the media, Brand shared his the impact of homelessness on his own family.

“My oldest daughter, who struggled with drug addiction, spent nearly two years homeless on the streets of Fresno,” Brand said. “So I know the heartache and the pain that parents and family members go through.”

Officially titled Assembly Bill 3171, the proposed program would dedicate a one-time allocation of $1.5 billion in general fund monies for projects designed to help house the homeless. The legislation is sponsored by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D- San Francisco) and Senator Ricardo Lara (D- Bell Gardens).

If enacted, cities and counties would apply for block grant funding and would have to provide 50% matching funds for their local projects.

The bill text states that funds will be granted for programs including, but not limited to, “shelter diversion, rapid re-housing, rental assistance, emergency shelter, navigation centers, bridge housing and permanent supportive housing.”

Like in most block grant programs, projects would be organized by the communities themselves, rather than being part of a top-down approach by the state.

“Homelessness is a statewide crisis, but we cannot do it alone,” said Asm. Ting. “This year, we need to identify resources to partner with cities to build more shelters and augment additional services so we can get people off our streets and into shelter as fast as possible.”

Sen. Lara voiced similar sentiment for local cooperation in his statement.

“The Legislature has confronted the crisis of homelessness with new funding for supportive housing and by helping people overcome their barriers to finding homes,” said Sen. Lara. “Despite all of our efforts, homelessness is on the rise, and we need to partner with local leaders who are coming up with humane and creative solutions.”

Mayors Voice Homelessness Concerns

Tthe group of eleven mayors sent a letter to legislators earlier this month, urging them to allocate some of the state’s projected general fund surplus to fund homelessness solutions. Some in Sacramento seem to have gotten the message.

“The homeless crisis is severely impacting thousands of families and children; it is costing lives and livelihoods,’’ the mayors’ letter said. “It is also impacting our local businesses – from local storefronts to the greater tourism industry. The crisis and the solution we seek has no geographical boundaries, as it is felt in nearly every corner of California, nor is it a partisan issue.’’

“Homelessness is first and foremost a humanitarian crisis, but it is also the single greatest threat to the economic prosperity, opportunity and growth our cities are fighting for.” — Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg

The bill is in the infancy of the legislative process, however. It could stall out or potentially see a number of changes in its path toward passage.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, no stranger to the legislative process after serving six years in the Assembly and eight in the Senate, implored the politicians to keep the local scope in mind while pushing the bill forward. Steineberg is leading the Big 11 effort.

“Homelessness is first and foremost a humanitarian crisis, but it is also the single greatest threat to the economic prosperity, opportunity and growth our cities are fighting for,” Steinberg said. “We are on the front lines of providing compassionate and effective solutions to this issue, and we request that our state partners make alleviating homelessness in our cities an even greater priority.”

Sacramento Gets the Message – Enough for Two Bills

In a corresponding –or perhaps competing – press announcement, Senators Jim Beall (D- San Jose) and Nancy Skinner (D- Berkeley) unveiled Senate Bill 912, which would provide a framework very similar to AB 3171.

SB 912 is less developed and more of what insiders would call a “spot bill.” The two bills may ultimately have their goals reconciled in the legislative process, making either one eligible to be the vessel that finally enables the new program.

Though both bills are subject to considerable change, the most prominent distinction is SB 912’s greater sum — $2 billion of general fund monies proposed as compared to $1.5 billion in AB 3171 – and a more focused scope on housing services. AB 3171 seems to offer greater flexibility for a range of programs.

Will Fresno Get That $20 Million?

These bills have only been introduced, so considerable changes could take place between today and passage.

The eleven mayors, likely joined by other local leaders, say they will lobby legislators in the coming months to make their case.

If one of the bills passes with its current intent, general fund monies would be immediately appropriate. The funds would then be up for grabs for localities that wish to apply, under a timeline defined by the legislature.

Given Brand’s involvement in the process, it seems likely that Fresno would receive a chunk of the money. An exact amount is obviously uncertain.

The city is still a long way away from $20 million, but steps are being taken in the right direction.

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