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Newsom withholds homeless funding until SF comes up with a better plan

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a Homekey site in Los Angeles to announce the latest round of awards for homeless housing projects across the state on Aug. 24, 2022. | Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Gov. Gavin Newsom is withholding $1 billion in funding for homeless services until he can convene local leaders to reassess the state’s failing approach to the crisis. And the announcement, which could mean the delay of millions in funding for San Francisco, caught the city’s homelessness department off guard.

Newsom said on Thursday that some cities haven’t been ambitious enough in crafting plans to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness, citing a need for a better collective statewide approach. He plans to convene a meeting in mid-November to “coordinate on an approach that will deliver more substantial results,” Newsom’s office said. 

The governor’s plan potentially holds up $47.3 million in state grants for San Francisco, putting 400 shelter beds and a youth drop-in center, among other case-management services, at risk of shutting down, according to the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. 

“Today’s announcement from the Governor’s Office was the first we had heard from the state that they were not satisfied by our local [Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention] plan,” said Emily Cohen, communications director for the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, in a statement. “To make real change, we need investments at the scale we saw during COVID.”

San Francisco has met some of the goals set by Mayor London Breed to address homelessness back in July 2020—notably building out its portfolio of permanent supportive housing—but the issue remains a top concern for local residents. 

The city has purchased 2,918 housing units for currently homeless residents and obtained 2,350 new shelter beds in the last two years. But actually placing people into permanent housing is happening at a snail’s pace, and that housing likely won’t come close to meeting the city’s total need: The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing estimates only being able to house one of every four residents who become homeless

San Francisco saw a slight decrease in its homeless population this year, but other counties around the Bay Area have experienced spikes, according to a one-night count conducted in February. 

“We are failing to meet the urgency of this moment,” Newsom said in a press release. “At this pace, it would take decades to significantly curb homelessness in California.” 

Legislation passed by the Board of Supervisors in June requires the city to create a plan to provide temporary shelter for all of its unhoused residents by the end of the year. In the meantime, local homeless advocates have sued the city, alleging that it has broken the law by destroying homeless encampments without always providing shelter. 

The homelessness department said that it’s in the process of creating a more comprehensive five-year plan that will set goals for the city to build on successes of Covid-era strategies.  

“We look forward to working with the state to update our plan and move forward with critical program implementation,” Cohen said.

David Sjostedt can be reached at