SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — California Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday morning said he would focus on solving the state’s growing homeless and housing issues during his state of the state address.
While the homeless populations in most states have recently declined, California’s jumped 16 percent last year.
“Let’s call it what it is, a disgrace,” Newsom said. “The state cannot treat homelessness as someone else’s problem buried beneath other priorities that make better soundbites, it’s our priority and it must be at the top of our agenda.”
The governor wants the state to take emergency action to build more shelters to get people off the streets and remove the barriers slowing down the construction of new housing projects.
“We’ve got to replace California’s scattershot approach with a more focused, crisis-level response,” said Newsom.
Newsom also proposed lowering the threshold for conservatorships for those with mental illnesses, particularly for those experiencing homelessness who turn down medical aid.
California must act “within the bounds of deep respect for civil liberties and personal freedoms, but with an equal emphasis on helping people into the life-saving treatment that they need at the precise moment they need it,” he said in a 42-minute livestreamed address from the ornate Assembly chamber.
However, he said, “clearly it is time to respond to the concerns of experts who argue that thresholds for conservatorships are too high and should be revisited.”
He additionally said the state needs to stop tolerating open drug use on our streets.
The governor intends to back that promise with a $1 billion dollar commitment to combat homelessness.
He asked the legislature to approve $750 million for a new statewide housing fund and promised long term sustainable revenue for affordable housing which some in Sacramento believe translates to tax hikes. He also emphasized the need to see homelessness as a health crisis.
“It’s time to match our big hearted empathy with tight fisted accountability,” Newsom said.
“Doctors should be able to write prescriptions for housing the same way they do for antibiotics,” he added.
Newsom is also asking state lawmakers for nearly $700 million to shift the focus of California’s Medicaid program towards preventative health care.
“I know that homelessness can be solved. It’s our cause. It’s our calling,” said Newsom. “Let’s all rise to the challenge and make California stand up as an example of what true courage and compassion can achieve.”
Newsom says his budget includes measures assuring accountability and continued funding for his proposals.
His plan needs to pass through the state legislature next.
Newsom also criticized President Trump for proposing an $8.6 million cut from Housing and Urban Development Funds and pushed local cities to build now.
“I respect local control but not at the cost of creating a two class system, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.
Throughout the speech, he remained optimistic, pointing to solutions like FEMA trailers, which are being dispatched statewide to house the homeless. He also identified 286 properties of vacant state land that will now be used for homelessness solutions.
“I don’t think homelessness can be solved, I know it can be solved,” Newsom said.
The governor also had a clear message to local leaders calling for a “do it or lose it policy,” essentially saying take action, spend your money wisely, or the state will step in and make decisions for you.
Bay Area mayors offered support for the governor’s message Wednesday.
San Franciso Mayor London Breed released a statement that said in part, “I was glad to hear the governor’s support of ongoing resources for everything from navigation centers to affordable housing, which will help San Francisco continue the progress we’re making in helping our unhoused residents off the street and into shelter and services.”
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf tweeted, “This is California’s biggest crisis. It crosses all jurisdictional boundaries and will take the entire region working together to solve it.”
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo wrote, “The coalition looks forward to working with the governor and his team to ensure that strong accountability measures accompany any new funding.”