California big city mayors call for continued state homelessness funds. Here’s why

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Several California big city mayors urged Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers this week to continue state funding to combat homelessness, money that they said has been a lifesaver for thousands of people on the streets of the Golden State.

For five years the Homeless Housing Assistance and Prevention program (HHAP) has funneled about $4 million to counties, cities and continuum of care organizations in the state to make a dent into its burgeoning homeless population.

In his May budget revision, Newsom proposed trimming $260 million in supplemental funding from HHAP to help balance next year’s budget withan estimated $45 billion deficit.

While $1 billion from HHAP is still in an ongoing round of funding — but whether the grant will continue next year is far from certain.

Earlier this month, Newsom announced he would speed up the release of $3 billion to build or refurbish mental health treatment centers from the voter-approved Prop. 1, a measure that will pump nearly $6.4 billion to target those who are in crisis or experiencing chronic homelessness and for veteran housing.

Prop. 1 reconfigures the California Mental Health Services Act to redirect the majority of its funding from the counties to the state for building the facilities and housing for the chronically homeless.

The mayors said HHAP and Prop. 1 are complimentary.

“We do need both,” said Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer. “We need HHAP to support our ongoing efforts and we also need Prop. 1.”

In a news conference Wednesday that came on the heels of a letter the California Big City Mayors coalition sent earlier this week to leaders of the state senate and assembly, as well as the chairs of both budget committees, several municipal leaders spoke to the need to continue to maintain state funding.

“We cannot abandon this progress now ... Without HHAP the progress that we were making will vanish,” said Mayor Todd Gloria, chair of the coalition, citing multiple negative impacts that would follow such as shuttering of shelters and many homeless returning to the streets. “In short, it will be a disaster.”

“To our state leaders, we say this is not the time to take our foot off the gas,” Gloria continued. “Now is not the time to reverse the progress that we have made.”

Budgets, he said, are a reflection of the values and priorities and even as San Diego is facing a $170 million deficit Gloria is proposing to increase the funding for homeless services, planning to add another 1,000 shelter beds and 200 safe parking spaces in the city.

Lawmakers at the Capitol, meanwhile, are pushing hard to find ways to restore major homelessness and housing program cuts.

‘If not now, then when?’

The mayors also shared stories of people the homelessness money has helped in their towns.

Riverside Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson spoke about a 66-year-old man who was homeless for 21 years and struggled for years recovering from substance abuse.

After many efforts to engage him, the city’s outreach team has finally secured housing for him and his two emotional support animals, something, she said, would not have been possible without HHAP funding.

“If we lose HHAP funding,” she added, “we’ll lose people like (him).”

In Riverside, for every person housed, six more become homeless, the mayor said. “We need every tool in our toolbelt to continue this work.”

Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh said cities have the bulk of the responsibility “to triage” the homelessness crisis in the state.

“Our residents trumpet this crisis daily and the streets of California cry out with the pain of thousands,” she said. “Lean budget years require difficult decisions. Addressing homelessness, our state’s number one issue must be a priority. If not now. Then when?”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said she doesn’t want her city to retreat on homelessness.

“We still have a lot of work to do. Our street homelessness has reached a 10 year low but our family homelessness has increased,” Breed said. “We have made progress and without HHAP funding, we risk slipping backwards, losing all the progress we’ve made and the momentum we have built.”

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg enumerated some myths and facts, imploring lawmakers and the Newsom administration to find a path to ensure “this immensely successful investment in California cities can continue to make the progress that we’re beginning to see in all of our cities.”

Because of potential cuts in state funding, the Sacramento City Council might be faced with deciding whether to close shelters next year.

San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan noted that last year his city measured a 10.7% decrease in the number of unhoused people.

“Like so many other cities, San Jose is finally turning the corner on unsheltered homelessness and we’re seeing it in the data,” he said.

Administration seeks more accountability

Gov. Newsom has called for accountability and results for the money doled out by the state. The message from the mayors Wednesday was that they are ready.

“We welcome the accountability necessary to get this job done,” said Mayor Dawson, adding that Riverside has implemented a dashboard to monitor progress on homelessness.

Mayor Steinberg said that in “collaboration with the Newsom administration, the 13th largest cities have obtained state approval for plans to set aggressive accountability goals.”

“Specifically,” he added, “we are committed to reducing unsheltered homelessness by 16% by 2025.”

While deficit reduction is imperative, “we implore the Legislature and the administration to find a way to fund (the sixth round of HHAP) so that this immensely successful investment in California cities can continue to make the progress that we’re beginning to see in all of our cities,” Steinberg said.

Added Mayor Gloria: “We’ve heard our governor loud and clear. These are precious public resources and the public deserves to know what they’re getting for their limited dollars … we will happily be held to account for how these funds are spent. But our message today is ‘do not retreat.’ ”

Counties welcome investments

Graham Knaus, CEO of the California State Association of Counties, called the HHAP grants “the most effective program to address homelessness in California.”

“And, zero dollars means zero progress,” he said, adding the association understands the broad framework of what the governor has proposed and that tough choices have to be made.

“I think it is important to recognize that California is a leader in so many spaces that this is an area where there’s both more done and more at risk in terms of impact to communities,” said Knaus, who made a plea for HHAP continued funding before the Senate Budget Committee in April.

“The investments have been welcome and critically needed and they must continue or we’re simply throwing out the progress we’ve made in the last few years,” he said.

More than 181,000 Californians experienced homelessness on a given night in 2023, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Karina Gonzalez with the League of California Cities, pointed out that California’s largest cities receive direct HHAP funding and the allocations are based on cities’ point-in-time counts. Mid and smaller sized cities can also get the money through their counties or continuum of care, she said.