Gavin Newsom confronted at press conference about missing $24bn spent on tackling homelessness

Gavin Newsom said he was not at all “surprised” about the outcome of the audit, which said that California was not tracking their homelessness spending

Amelia Neath
Monday 13 May 2024 19:17 BST
Newsom proposes painful cuts to close CA’s growing budget deficit

California’s governor Gavin Newsom was confronted while being probed at a press conference over the state’s spending of $24 billion to tackle homelessness.

Mr Newson led a conference on Friday announcing that California’s budget deficit is at least $45 billion and proposed various spending cuts to state worker jobs, education programs and health services.

He also proposed reducing funding for homelessness and housing initiatives by nearly $1.2 billion, including $474 million from an anti-foreclosure program to preserve existing affordable housing.

Despite the big budget announcements and slashes on spending, one reporter at the conference did not allow the governor to skim over the topic of homelessness in the state.

In a state audit, released in early April, it was revealed that California spent $24 billion to tackle homelessness over the past five years, yet did not consistently track how exactly the huge sum of money helped the homeless crisis.

Angela Hart, of KFF Health News, asked two questions: whether he felt his administration did enough to determine if the money was well spent and if he was worried whether public opinion over spending so much on the homelessness program has soured given the lack of progress from all the billions of dollars spent.

Mr Newsom replied with a lengthy answer about localism, and how it is “difficult at state level” to deal with these issues when local governments have different strategies, but touched on how they have incorporated “accountability plans” into their Housing Assistance Program (HAP).

He added that the audit did not “surprise” him and said that he acknowledged they needed to do more “not just in the homeless bucket but also the mental health/homelessness bucket”.

However, Ms Hart came back to the governor after his response saying, “I’m sorry, governor, I didn’t hear responses to either of those questions.”

“Well, forgive me if I appear to repeat the first response,” the governor started off by saying.

He reiterated that the audit “did not surprise” him and explained that California has taken part in “unprecedented investments” and, with that “unprecedented interventions”, such as demanding more accountability over local governments on how they are spending state money.

He reiterated that he initially rejected plans surrounding an accountability framework as he believed there was not enough accountability nor ambition in them.

California’s governor Gavin Newsom unveils his revised 2024-25 state budget during a news conference in Sacramento on 10 May
California’s governor Gavin Newsom unveils his revised 2024-25 state budget during a news conference in Sacramento on 10 May (AP)

He then said they had created a “housing accountability unit” and wanted to incorporate homelessness into that for further accountability over state funding.

He also said that in other areas, they have proposed to “foundationally reform an existing stream of funding to provide more transparency and state oversight” of how local governments are spending.

Moving on to Ms Hart’s second question over whether the public may be sceptical about spending further on homelessness, Mr Newsom said: “As it relates to the public mood, no question, more is not always better; they want to see results.”

He then listed off some “demonstrable” examples of where California has been taking action against homelessness, such as the “national model” encampment resolution grants and an amicus brief he filed with the United States Supreme Court concerning the homelessness encampments in March.

In a statement on the brief, the governor said: “The United States Supreme Court can establish a balance that allows enforcement of reasonable limits on camping in public spaces, while still respecting the dignity of those living on our streets.”

Ms Hart thanked him for his answer, calling it “thorough” before questioning Mr Newsom over other budget areas.

The tension over whether California is doing enough toward homelessness rose further after the audit’s release in April. An estimated 171,000 people are homeless in California, which amounts to roughly 30 per cent of all of the homeless people in the US. However, without a clear dataset, it is unclear how much of the $24bn helped towards the situation.

Without reliable and recent data on its spending, “the state will continue to lack complete and timely information about the ongoing costs and associated outcomes of its homelessness programs,” the audit stated.

California funds more than 30 programs to tackle homelessness, with the audit assessing only five initiatives.

However, the audit found that only two of them – the efforts to turn hotel and motel rooms into housing and housing-related support programs – are “likely cost-effective”.

The other programs, which received collectively $9.4 billion since 2020, did not have enough data to be fully assessed, the report says.

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