Voters will no have to decide if California cities will be punished for not reducing the growing rate of homelessness. The public and political pressure on housing and homelessness have been increasing over the recent past, and to counter the challenges, Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed a task force recommending that the local government face tough new legal sanctions for failing to make progress, especially on homelessness.

The 13-member Council of Regional Homeless Advisors led by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas wants the legislators to amend the California Constitution to make the policy legal and enforceable. They want to present it to the voters as a statewide ballot measure in November.

If the legislature is approved by the voters, the mandate would be to allow the state to sue the cities and counties, even itself,  if the number of homeless people doesn’t decline. The council argues that the state needs to carry a big stick to convince the local governments that they will face consequences in case they do not get people off the streets, including a possible loss of local control.

“We’ve tried moral persuasion. We’ve tried economic incentives,” Steinberg said. “But all of it’s optional. Why should this be optional? It shouldn’t be. It mustn’t be. Thousands of people are dying on the streets, and people are telling us this is a priority.”

The members of the task force are yet to disclose exactly what the sanctions would be or would look like, however, we speculate that the cities could lose control over how they spend state funds locally. The Gov agrees with the recommendations but he says he would like to see it tested in a pilot program first.

“It is a tectonic shift in the way we’ve done things. I’ve learned — and you’ve probably heard me say this — there is an old wonderful African proverb that says ‘if you want to go fast, go alone if you want to go far, go together,” Gov. Newsom

This proposal is certain to stir controversy both at the capitol and with the local governments across the state. However, Steinberg maintains that the mandate is necessary because of the overlapping and convoluted systems of care that at times have differing goals and approaches.

The money meant to care for the homeless people is split between elected officials in cities and counties and the administrator of “continuums of care” – the local and regional agencies created to handle funding and organize the distribution of services for the homeless people.

This proposal comes after the governor proposed a 1.4 billion in new funding in his 2020-21 budget in a bid to fight homelessness. Within the next couple of months, another 640 billion from last year’s budget is expected to flow into the county governments to support homelessness and affordable housing initiatives.

California leads the homeless count. From 2018 to 2019, the percentage of homeless people jumped by more than 16 percent to about 151,000 people according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.


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