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Newsom Criticizes Local Response to Homelessness. He Should Look in the Mirror.
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By Dan Walters, CalMatters Commentary
Published 1 month ago on
April 23, 2024

Gov. Newsom criticizes local officials for failing on homelessness, deflecting blame from his administration. (GV Wire Composite/David Rodriguez)

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Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom reiterated one of his favorite complaints — that local government officials aren’t doing enough to reduce California’s scourge of homelessness.

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Dan Walters

CalMatters

Opinion

While renewing the annual local government grants to deal with what Californians view as one of the state’s most vexing problems, Newsom imposed two new layers of state oversight for homelessness programs.

He said the Department of Housing and Community Development will keep tabs on local officials. If they are not diligent enough, they could face legal action by the Department of Justice.

“What’s happening on the streets has to be a top priority,” Newsom said. “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.”

Is Newsom Gaslighting?

So, one might wonder, are Newsom’s oft-voiced complaints about locals justified, or is he gaslighting — attempting to shift the political onus for ever-increasing numbers of unhoused people to someone else?

On paper, the state already has a mechanism for coordinating and overseeing homelessness programs. It’s called the California Interagency Council on Homelessness, or Cal ICH, and most of its members are Newsom appointees.

If the governor is looking for someone to blame, he might begin by looking in the mirror.

Earlier this month, state Auditor Grant Parks issued a sharply critical report on Cal ICH, saying that in the three years since a previous audit found that the state was not effectively coordinating homelessness efforts, the agency “has not continued to track and report on this information since that time.

“Further, it has not aligned its action plan for addressing homelessness with its statutory goals, nor has it ensured that it collects accurate, complete, and comparable financial and outcome information from 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.”

Local Officials Decry Year-at-a-Time Funding

In response to Newsom’s periodic complaints about the managerial shortcomings of local officials, they have responded in kind, contending that it’s impossible to establish ongoing programs to help homeless people get housing and treatment for underlying issues, such as mental illness and substance abuse, as long as the state sends money just one year at a time.

That’s a valid point, as is their contention that a federal appellate court decision bars them from clearing encampments unless they can provide alternative housing – and Newsom, while dwelling on the shortcomings of local officials, actually agrees with them on that point.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments on an appeal of that decision. Newsom, along with other California political figures of both parties, is asking the court to overturn the lower court ruling.

He has said that with the appellate court ruling, local judges are blocking “common sense” efforts to clear the encampments.

“There is no compassion in stepping over people in the streets, and there is no dignity in allowing people to die in dangerous, fire-prone encampments,” Newsom says. “Hindering cities’ efforts to help their unhoused populations is as inhumane as it is unworkable.”

Newsom knows that California having, by far, the nation’s largest homeless population, underscored by videos of squalid encampments, would plague whatever political career he contemplates after the governorship. He seems to be building an argument that he’s been doing the best he can, but others are dragging their feet.

About the Author

Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times. CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more columns by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.

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