California legislators should pass bill to compel cities to end homelessness
By Sam Liccardo and Darrell Steinberg
As mayors of big cities in California, we cannot ignore an unacceptable fact which the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated. Alongside one of the greatest concentrations of wealth and innovation in the world, thousands of people sleep outdoors on sheets of cardboard or in flimsy tents. The problem shocks the conscience and worsens by the day.
We must take action and be held accountable for our progress — both for the people suffering from homelessness and for the communities that bear its impacts.
We are, as a state, the nation’s champion of requiring what is both necessary and aspirational. We have required our energy companies to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, a mandate that has produced impressive reductions in greenhouse gases. But when it comes to the problem that threatens to undermine everything we stand for, we require nothing.
If we think it’s important to reduce the growing number of people experiencing homelessness on our streets, why don’t we require it? The Governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors, composed in part by local officials, emphasized the need to create a legally enforceable mandate requiring state and local governments to make progress toward getting people off the streets.
Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, has crafted a critically important tool in Assembly Bill 3269 to enable this kind of transformative accountability. His bill would require state and local governments to conduct a gaps and needs analysis to determine whether the money that is currently being spent is being used effectively, and to identify what more is needed to address the problem.
Under the bill, both state and local governments must create an actionable plan to reduce homelessness to functional zero by 2030. A newly created Homeless Inspector General would be charged with holding state and local governments accountable to achieving goals.
We realize that city budgets, including our own, have taken huge hits since the pandemic began. AB3269 ensures the cities are held accountable only for what they can fiscally bear, given their current resources.
Nonetheless, new state and federal dollars for COVID-19 response have enabled many of our counties and cities, including Sacramento and San Jose, to invest in new solutions — ranging from motel conversions to prefabricated apartments to homeless prevention programs — to get and keep people indoors. Assemblymember Chiu’s bill enables us to act more strategically, and focus our scarce dollars where they will bring results, both to house the homeless and prevent those who are at risk of losing fragile housing from being evicted.
Californians have marched by the thousands in recent months to demand equal treatment and justice. To answer their call, we must also answer the question of how we allow so many members of our already disadvantaged communities to live outdoors in dangerous and deplorable conditions. While 6.5% of Californians identify as Black, they represent 40% of the homeless population in our state. We must do better.
Some communities go above and beyond in their efforts to bring people indoors, while other jurisdictions block affordable housing at every turn. Some cities look to evidence-based approaches that are proven to work. Others perpetuate myths about homelessness to avoid responsibility. We must do better.
The current approach to addressing our state’s greatest challenge, which largely relies upon the voluntary good will of a few cities, plainly does not work. The results speak for themselves.
The pandemic has made even more clear the already obvious need for us to make a bold new commitment to reducing homelessness in California. We urge the Legislature to pass AB3269 and the governor to sign it.
Originally published at https://www.sfchronicle.com on August 19, 2020.