California has 30% of the nation’s homeless and over half of its unsheltered homeless. $17 billion has been thrown at the problem, yet homeless numbers continue to grow. Between 2019 and 2022, the homeless population increased by over 22,000. We have become a national embarrassment.
So what can be done? Last session, my caucus introduced a comprehensive bill package with real Homelessness Solutions. The package included 15 significant pieces of legislation designed to deal with the root causes of homelessness, including substance use disorders, mental illness, affordable housing. If passed, barriers blocking treatment for those incapable of seeking help would be addressed, the behavioral health workforce would expand, barriers preventing new emergency shelters and supportive housing would be removed, and charitable organizations providing shelter services for the homeless would be encouraged. The legislation also supported efforts to clean up encampments, to improve homeless outreach, and expanded programs for inmates at risk of homelessness after release. Unfortunately, majority opposition blocked most of this legislative package.
On the positive side, legislation establishing the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Court Program allowing courts to order persons suffering from severe psychotic disorders to participate in treatment plans created by the person, his/her supporters, or county behavioral health agencies, was signed into law. And recently, Governor Newsom announced $47 million in new funding for California’s tribal nations to support efforts to end homelessness in their communities. Locally, the San Pasqual and Pala Bands of Mission Indians were included in the 16 tribal nations receiving funds.
Those are positive, but small steps. Despite current efforts, homelessness is getting worse. There are proven solutions, but providing housing without treating underlying symptoms such as substance abuse and mental illness hasn’t succeeded – it can’t and won’t. A comprehensive strategy is needed. We tried last session, and I look forward to trying again when we go back to work in 2023.