Newsom rejects claims his homelessness plan isn’t working

PARAMOUNT, Calif. (AP) — Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday dismissed claims by the sheriff of California’s most populous county that record spending on homelessness initiatives would not reduce the problem for people living in the street and the state isn’t held responsible for where the billions of dollars go.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva slammed Newsom’s announcement this week that he would add $2 billion as part of his latest budget proposal to an existing $12 billion plan to cut the number of homeless Californians.

“He goes to the same industrial complex without shelter, and there is no accountability,” Villanueva said. “There are no results that we see, there is no vision. What is this success?

Newsom fired back during a stoppage in the Paramount City of Los Angeles County. The governor pointed to legislation he signed last July that specifically requires cities and counties to follow strict accountability measures in order to receive public funds to address homelessness. Each local jurisdiction must submit an “action plan” by mid-2022 that includes data-driven targets. If the targets are met, jurisdictions are eligible for additional resources.

“So there’s a new framework around accountability, new planning measures that include county sheriffs,” Newsom said Wednesday. “And I look forward to the sheriff’s detailed strategy on how best to use the resources that have also been provided to him.”

Before visiting LA County, Newsom helped clean up a homeless encampment along a San Diego freeway to highlight the proposed budget, which he said would build on previous efforts to put end to homelessness. In 2021, the state invested $50 million in encampment clearance and this year it has proposed to increase that figure tenfold to $500 million.

“These camps in California are unacceptable. Dirty streets in the state are unacceptable,” he said. “We need to do more. We have to do better.”

Newsom said that over the past year, the state has placed 50,000 homeless people in hotel rooms turned into temporary shelters. On top of that, some 8,000 people have been moved to hotels converted into permanent accommodation offering services such as mental health care and job placement.

The governor’s proposal calls for an additional 55,000 units, including tiny homes, to be made available to keep people off the streets.

Villanueva, who is running for re-election, has shaped himself as a brash underdog. Last summer, he strayed from his traditional jurisdiction and showed up at Venice Beach in Los Angeles wearing a cowboy hat and promising a cleanup of homeless encampments. Villanueva has dubbed city and county leaders “architects” of homelessness and rejects a more measured approach.

The sheriff, whose department is under investigation by the state for excessive force and other alleged misconduct, has come under heavy criticism from the local political establishment for wading into the territory of the city.

A homelessness problem once largely confined to the Skid Row section of downtown has spread to virtually every part of Los Angeles. The country’s second-largest city also has the country’s second-largest homeless population – 41,000 among the city’s total population of 4 million, according to the latest survey conducted before the pandemic.

Villanueva claimed success at Venice Beach, and on Wednesday he set his sights on another tourist destination: Hollywood. He said all city officials should aim to “regulate public space” and make it attractive for outsiders to come and spend money.

“Because tourism is an $18 billion-a-year industry in Los Angeles County,” Villanueva said. “We must support and defend our tourism industry.”

Newsom’s cleanup on Wednesday comes amid growing frustration over the proliferation of homeless encampments under freeway overpasses and near freeway exit and entrance ramps across California.

An estimated 161,000 people are homeless in California, more than any other state. Proponents say they cannot house people quickly enough with a housing shortage and high rents.

Newsom declined to say whether the homeless situation has gotten better or worse since he took office three years ago, though he noted the pandemic has only increased the challenges. .

“The 58,000 people (removed from the streets) will tell you that their lives have improved,” Newsom told reporters after shoveling trash with workers from the California Department of Transportation, known as Caltrans, which has spearheaded cleanups at similar sites across the state.

Newsom said 4,200 tons (3,810 metric tons) of trash has been collected since the program began.

“Since we made these investments, we are facing an unprecedented economic contraction, the worst in our lifetime, induced by a pandemic,” he added. “There is not a mayor or a state that does not suffer from these realities and these challenges.”

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