By Dan Whitcomb
(Reuters) – Responding to a growing crisis on the streets of California’s cities, Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday sought to create a $750 million fund to help house the homeless and directed the state to immediately start setting up tents and trailers.
Newsom said the money, if approved in the 2020-21 budget, would be distributed to major cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as smaller communities to pay rent for homeless people and create more temporary housing.
“The state of California is treating homelessness as a real emergency – because it is one,” Newsom, a Democrat, said in a statement announcing his budget proposals, which he is expected to formally deliver to the state legislature on Friday.
An estimated 130,000 people are homeless somewhere in California on any given day, more than any other state, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. California is the most populous state in the United States, home to about 39.6 million people.
“Californians are demanding that all levels of government – federal, state and local – do more to get people off the streets and into services, whether that’s housing, mental health services, substance abuse treatment or all of the above,” Newsom said.
Homeless advocates have cited low housing vacancy as a main contributor to homelessness. The Los Angeles metropolitan area has a roughly 4 percent vacancy rate, one of the lowest in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In addition to the $750 million in the budget, Newsom is seeking $695 million in state, federal and private funds on California’s Medicaid program by 2022 to improve its services for homeless people.
The prospects of Newsom winning federal funds for his plan were not clear. In September, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson rejected requests for more money, blaming state and local leaders for the homelessness crisis.
In an executive order, Newsom also directed the state’s Department of General Services to supply 100 camp trailers, along with an unspecified number of “modular tent structures” as temporary housing.
U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, has criticized California officials for months about homelessness.
On a visit to San Francisco and Los Angeles in September, Trump said conditions including trash, defecation, and hypodermic needles left by homeless people were hurting the prestige of those cities.
Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California applauded Newsom’s moves, saying the governor was “absolutely right to treat homelessness as the all-hands-on-deck crisis that it is.”
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; editing by David Gregorio and Grant McCool)