A look at California’s “incredible” investments in homelessness

Along with the historic $12 billion homelessness package included in the FY 2021-2022 budget, California lawmakers this year are pushing multiple pieces of legislation to further the state’s efforts to reduce its nation-leading homeless population. 22% of the US homeless population currently resides in California.

Of this $12 billion in total funding, $1 billion is allocated to local governments for addressing homelessness for each of the next two years. It also includes $4 billion over two years for homelessness programs in the Department of Social Services.

 

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Housing California Policy Director Chris Martin told State of Reform how monumental the newly finalized funding is.

“We’ve never seen this kind of commitment. Both on the side of the amount of resources, but also the manner in which they’re addressing it.”

The funding allocations for affordable housing production and the over $2 billion for HomeKeep services are landmark accomplishments, according to Martin. He said the state has never provided more than $1 billion for overall homelessness funding.

The state’s intent to make this funding ongoing is key, he added.

“We’ve never had that commitment from the state, and so that is the first of its kind … That is a huge accomplishment and is due in large part to Asm. Luz Rivas and the Bring California Home Coalition … This is an incredible accomplishment on that front.”

Democratic Asm. Luz Rivas is a strong advocate for the homeless, having brought three bills this session aiming to ameliorate California’s homelessness crisis. 

Rivas’s chief of staff, Matthew Montgomery, explained what influenced the assemblywoman’s extensive involvement in homelessness policy, saying 27% of the students at her old elementary school are experiencing homelessness.

“I think for her it is just an issue of having grown up in the district that she represents, seeing the impacts that that type of instability has on our youth — their ability to learn and progress and be contributing members of society — I think is what really has pushed her to try and address what she was calling the ‘hidden homeless.’ Our youth [are] the ‘hidden homeless,’ and these are kids that we don’t know are homeless because we don’t identify them.”

One of the bills in Rivas’s homelessness package, AB 71 — described by Rivas’s communications director Ruy Laredo as one of the assemblywoman’s biggest priorities — was incorporated into the new budget instead of continuing in the legislative process.

This “Bring California Home” initiative provides $1 billion in funding to local municipalities to respond to homelessness through rental assistance, increasing housing accessibility, and connecting unhoused individuals with support programs.

Laredo described Rivas’s motivation for bringing AB 71.

“What we’ve seen in the past is just really this erratic and piecemeal approach to funding homelessness, and the idea behind AB 71 would be to create an ongoing source for local governments — both rural and urban — to just tap into so that they can support their communities and their unhoused population and get them the help they need.”

Montgomery said the assemblywoman is still working on incorporating aspects of AB 71 into the budget through trailer bills. This includes strict accountability measures like reporting requirements and audits for municipalities’ spending on homelessness.

“I think the assemblywoman has said before that funding alone won’t solve our crisis [of] homelessness, [and] that we also need to have strict accountability and reporting requirements.”

Rivas’s AB 1220 would establish an interagency council on homelessness, consisting of various department directors as well other stakeholders including individuals with lived homeless experience who can provide critical input.

AB 1220 is a revised version of an initiative brought by Rivas last session, AB 1845. This initial bill contained a robust plan to streamline and centralize the state’s fragmented homelessness response system and had stringent requirements for different state agencies. Following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s veto of AB 1845 last year, Rivas introduced the scaled down AB 1220 to renew her effort.

Laredo explained how the council would work to ameliorate California’s homelessness crisis.

“The council would be tasked with various goals such as identifying resources to prevent homelessness, creating partnerships among state agencies, promoting system integration to increase efficiencies, and also making policy recommendations to the legislature.”

AB 1220 passed the Assembly unanimously in May and currently awaits a hearing in the Senate Housing Committee.

AB 27 — a reintroduction of legislation vetoed by Newsom in 2019 — would establish a centralized process for identifying homeless youth. Cosponsored by Rivas and Asm. David Chiu, the bill’s revival is the result of a recent state audit revealing that local educational agencies aren’t doing enough to identify homeless students.

A 2020 study from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) showed over 269,000 of K-12 students in California are experiencing homelessness. As Laredo pointed out, this is enough individuals to fill Dodger Stadium five times over.

“To me, it’s ridiculous that the fifth largest economy in the world has that many homeless students that UCLA is identifying, yet the state doesn’t have the resources to get those numbers themselves.”

He said AB 27 would particularly benefit Latinx and Black youth, who represent a disproportionate amount of the state’s homeless youth. The bill passed the Assembly unanimously in early June and is currently in the committee process in the Senate.

Martin doesn’t believe AB 27 will solve the state’s broader homeless crisis, but said it would nonetheless be impactful for the homeless students it’s targeting

Martin described Chiu’s AB 816 as one of the most impactful efforts pertaining to homelessness this session. This bill would establish an accountability structure in the state, creating a new inspector general position who would collaborate with local jurisdictions to ensure they conduct gaps and needs analyses for their homeless populations.

Martin emphasized the ambitiousness of the effort.

“And then based on that gaps and needs analysis, they would put forward a plan to end homelessness, essentially.”

Chiu’s bill passed the Assembly in May and is being debated in the Senate Human Services Committee this week.

Senator Sydney Kamlager’s AB 369 would give homeless individuals presumptive Medi-Cal eligibility. It passed the Assembly unanimously last month and awaits further discussion in the Senate.

Martin said AB 369 is a “really good bill” that allows for “street medicine,” which allows homeless individuals to receive Medi-Cal-covered services on the street.

“[Through this bill], providers can move quickly and provide services without having to go through that long administrative process of verifying someone’s eligibility and enrolling them and all of that.”

Another relevant bill is AB 362 from Asm. Sharon Quirk-Silva, which would create a minimum threshold of standards for homeless shelters in the state. Martin said this bill has been heavily amended and is designed to address problems observed in shelters in Quirk-Silva’s district. This bill has also passed the Assembly and currently resides in the Senate.

While Martin is encouraged by the state’s commitment to continually fund these initiatives, he emphasized that the current funding is still only temporary. He wants to see the state follow through on this commitment by allocating funds like this on an ongoing basis.

“This is still one-year funding and we need to continue this scale of funding to actually see and achieve the results we’re looking for … One-time funding doesn’t do it. We need the ongoing resources and we need it at scale.”