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California Governor calls for stricter oversight of homelessness funds

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California – California Governor Gavin Newsom is emphasizing the need for more stringent oversight of funds distributed for homelessness after a report revealed that the state lacks proper measures to evaluate the success of these initiatives. On Thursday, Newsom announced that the Department of Housing and Community Development would start managing the state’s homelessness assistance grants, specifically the Homeless Housing Assistance and Prevention program, or HHAP. This program provides grants that local entities can use with some flexibility to address homelessness.

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Newsom warned that local governments and organizations that do not follow the state’s guidelines risk being sued by the state’s Department of Justice. This follows a precedent where the Justice Department has previously sued cities like Elk Grove and Huntington Beach for not complying with state affordable housing regulations. Newsom praised Attorney General Rob Bonta’s effectiveness in these cases and expressed his desire to apply similar legal pressures to enforce homelessness policy.

“What’s happening on the streets has to be a top priority,” Newsom said. “People have to see and feel the progress and the change and if they’re not … I am not interested in continuing the status quo.”

As California’s homelessness problem intensifies, Governor Gavin Newsom has been pressing for greater accountability from those receiving funds aimed at addressing the issue. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that over 181,000 Californians were homeless on any given night in 2023.

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In late 2022, Newsom announced he was holding back $1 billion in funding from the Homeless Housing Assistance and Prevention (HHAP) program directed at cities and counties. He felt their strategies for using the funds were not sufficiently proactive. Although he later released the funds, Newsom continues to push for improved results from this financial investment. A newly envisioned accountability team will oversee the HHAP plans submitted by local authorities to ensure they involve collaboration across different groups. When questioned about the possibility of cutting state funds if homelessness rates do not decline, Newsom provided an unclear answer.

“I’m not interested in funding failure any longer,” Newsom said. “So I’m going to speak for myself, just one guy that’s got three more appropriation cycles in front of him. I want to see results. Everybody wants to see results.”

Newsom said he could undertake some of the reorganization through executive actions.

Following a state audit that criticized California’s approach to evaluating its homelessness programs, Governor Gavin Newsom recently outlined new measures to address these shortcomings. This announcement arrives just over a month after Proposition 1 narrowly passed, an initiative Newsom supported, which allocates $6.4 billion towards mental health and addiction treatment facilities. This funding aims particularly to aid those in crisis, chronically homeless individuals, and to improve veteran housing.

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The audit, released on April 9, indicated that California has been lacking precise information on the costs and ongoing expenses of its homelessness initiatives. It also pointed out that the state had not been consistent in tracking and analyzing its efforts to reduce homelessness effectively. Newsom responded by stating his plan to expand the housing accountability unit to include homelessness programs, a move that aligns with the audit’s findings.

The council “has also not aligned its action plan to end homelessness with its statutory goals to collect financial information and ensure accountability and results,” State Auditor Grant Parks wrote. “Thus, it lacks assurance that the actions it takes will effectively enable it to achieve those goals. Another significant gap in the state’s ability to assess programs’ effectiveness is that it does not have a consistent method for gathering information on the costs and outcomes for individual programs.”

Over the last five years, nine state agencies have spent billions of dollars on around 30 programs focused on preventing and ending homelessness. The California Interagency Council on Homelessness is charged with coordinating these efforts and assessing their effectiveness, according to the audit findings.

Governor Gavin Newsom’s comments concluded a significant day of emphasis on homelessness and housing issues from the executive branch this Thursday.

Earlier in the day, during a press conference held at a newly built affordable housing site in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, Attorney General Rob Bonta emphasized the critical need for more low-income housing. He also highlighted the importance of holding cities responsible for tackling California’s severe shortage of affordable housing.

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“You don’t need me to tell me the crisis we’re in when it comes to homelessness, when it comes to housing and unaffordability in the state of California,” Bonta said. “We’re in a full state of crisis, full state of emergency and when you’re in a crisis, when you’re in an emergency, it’s all hands on deck and all tools in the toolbox. It’s folks working together. It’s everyone doing their part, rowing in the same direction.”

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