Californians are fed up with the state’s inability to deal with homelessness. With 12% of the nation’s population, we have 30% of its homeless and 47% of the total unsheltered population. In recent years, we have thrown $17 billion at the problem, yet there are no appreciable results. In fact, the situation has grown much worse; we have become a national embarrassment.
It’s way past time to find real solutions. This session, my caucus in Sacramento has introduced a comprehensive bill package to deal with the root causes of homelessness, including substance use disorders, mental illness, affordable housing. If passed, barriers that stand in the way of treating those incapable of seeking help will be addressed. The behavioral health workforce, along with treatment centers for those struggling with mental illness and addiction will be expanded, bureaucratic barriers preventing new emergency shelters and supportive housing will be removed, and charitable organizations providing shelter services for the homeless will be supported and encouraged.
The legislation also supports local efforts to clean up encampments. Homeless outreach/wrap-around services for law enforcement and county welfare departments that meet with homeless persons and assess immediate needs for housing and care are included. Programs expanding treatment for criminal defendants and reentry planning for jail inmates at risk of homelessness after release, will be developed and funded.
Government must be accountable. Where has the $17 billion gone? What has been accomplished? Our legislation requires consolidation of state funding for homelessness programs and services under one new department to streamline funding and eliminate duplicative, contradictory regulations. The Governor will also be required to produce an annual report to both the Legislature and public detailing state and local efforts aimed at reducing homelessness.
By adopting these commonsense measures, we can take a big step toward finding real solutions for homelessness. We must act now!