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California lawmakers question Gov. Newsom's homeless plan

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SAN FRANCISCO — Some lawmakers and mayors expressed skepticism Thursday over California Gov. Gavin Newsom's proposal to give $750 million to state-selected regional administrators rather than to local government to address the state's growing homelessness crisis, signaling the Democrat may have a budget fight on his hands.

The comments were made at a budget subcommittee hearing that marked the first in-depth hearing on the proposal and came on the heels of a critical review by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, which said the proposal does not articulate “a clear strategy for curbing homelessness."

Assembly budget chairman Phil Ting, a Democrat from San Francisco, said he needed many more specifics from the governor before green-lighting a “$750 million check without a lot of balances.”

While homelessness has decreased in other states, the homeless population in California grew 16% to more than 150,000 people in January 2019. State government has taken a more active role in trying to combat growing homelessness in the nation's most populous state, sending $1.2 million in one-time funding to cities and counties over the last two budget years.

Saying that he's “treating homelessness like the emergency it is," Newsom is deploying travel trailers throughout the state to provide temporary shelter, including a first wave of 10 to Los Angeles County on Thursday.

The $750 million proposed by Newsom could go toward rent vouchers, legal support and mediation services, but it would be handled by organizations selected through the state's Department of Social Services and not by cities, counties or other established local groups that have traditionally delivered the bulk of services to the homeless.

Jennifer Troia, a chief deputy director at the California Department of Social Services, said the crisis demands regional, coordinated responses but did not have specifics on how the regions would be divided or which entities might serve as administrators.

“I appreciate your desire for more specificity," she said. “I hear you."

Ting responded: “OK. It sounds like we’re going to have more hearings.”

The report by the Legislative Analyst's Office dinged the proposal for using one-time money, which means it won't be available next year, and for going around cities and counties.

Newsom's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment but has objected to the legislative analysis.

“We strongly disagree with the assertion that emergency funding to fight homelessness should be spread thinly, with less accountability and in keeping with business as usual," press secretary Jesse Melgar said Tuesday.

The mayors of Oakland and San Jose also testified at Thursday's hearing, saying they absolutely need help from the state but want flexibility to use the money as they deem fit as they know the needs and are the ones held accountable by voters.

Other experts on homelessness speaking at the hearing said they are housing people but can't keep up with demand as more people lose homes due to the state's outrageously high housing costs.

Ting said afterward that the amount of money is not the issue, although he noted that they have not yet spent the $650 million appropriated in last year's budget.

“The lack of clarify and specifics around where the money's going, how it's being spent, what it's being spent on, but also what specifically is the issue that we need to create a whole new bureaucratic approach to do this?” Ting said.

“The public will want to know.”

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