California lawmakers, alarmed by the state’s growing number of homeless population, proposed a $2 billion funding plan to build between 10,000-14,000 housing units for mentally ill persons sleeping on the streets. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, also called for $200 million over four years for temporary rent subsidies to bridge the gap until the new project is completed. They estimated that the construction funds, combined with federal and local money, could generate 10,000 to 14,000 units for California’s 116,000 homeless people, more than 60% of whom live outdoors.
Former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who joined De León at the news conference, said he is “absolutely frustrated” with the inadequate response to homelessness by local governments, but he hopes an infusion of state funding will begin to address the problem.
Los Angeles city has the most chronically homeless people in the nation, and homelessness overall grew 12% from 2013 to 2015. Many advocates expect another rise in numbers when homeless people will be counted again, despite unprecedented spending by local and federal officials last year.
Los Angeles County and city have pledged $100 million each to combat homelessness and plan to unveil separate strategies. The county has already allocated $101 million to the effort, while the city has set aside $12.4 million for emergency relief. Antonovich said : “Any directives by the state could undermine this expansion effort and delay progress being made in their own unique communities”. Some of the $400 million in Proposition 63 that the county received this year goes to housing, but it also funds a range of mental health services, including crisis intervention and transition programs for people coming out of locked psychiatric facilities.
Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins who has pushed for more affordable housing, said she was looking forward to seeing the details. Atkins stated : “The proposal advanced by the Senate helps both houses — and both parties — start the year on the same page in making homelessness a top priority.” The officials stated that the new units would operate on a “housing first” model, taking in homeless people with mental illness, drug and alcohol problems even if they refuse psychiatric or substance abuse treatment. The senators also proposed additional financial support for families on welfare facing or in danger of homelessness, and an increase in the state’s supplemental security income payments to 1.3 million elderly, blind and disabled poor people who cannot work. The additional programs would cost $100 million or more.
Theresa Winkler said at the news conference that she lived on the streets most of her life, turning to prostitution and using drugs before finding sobriety and a place to live with one of skid row’s nonprofit housing providers. “It’s not fun for people, particularly women, to lie in the dirt,” she said. “By having housing, my life has been given a purpose.”