What happened to the Golden State? A paradise that people once flocked to for opportunity still provides opportunity for many, but among the riches in urban meccas like San Francisco and Los Angeles is extreme poverty and homelessness. Once-scenic streets are now cluttered with litter, human excrement, makeshift cardboard bedding, and tent cities.
The amount of homeless people in California is similar to New York's homeless population. The difference is that New York can house most of its homeless in a shelter system. Only 5% of New York's homeless are unsheltered, but a whopping 72% of California's homeless are on the streets.
Many parts of California are truly divided between the haves and have-nots. But there is a plan to at least get the homeless off the streets, and this plan doesn't require landlords to pay for it.
California is providing shelter
California, under Project Homekey, repurposes vacant hotels, motels, apartments, and other unused properties and turns those facilities into places that can house the homeless. The project was funded mostly by federal dollars slated for COVID-19 relief (the CARES Act).
So far, $800 million was spent to house 8,200 homeless people, or about $97,000 per person. And Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration plans to spend a total of $5.8 billion of state and federal funds over the next two years to create about 42,000 housing units, or about $138,000 per person.
A new governor on the horizon?
Gov. Newsom is currently facing a recall election after receiving over 1.7 million signatures to get him out of office.
It isn't too unusual for citizens of California to try to get a governor removed. In fact, it's happened 54 times since 1911, but only one effort succeeded: In 2003, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger became the "Governator," taking the place of ousted Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. Californians were fed up with Davis, mainly due to rolling blackouts (which happened again under Newsom's watch).
The point is California could have another governor that would be overseeing this effort -- or not. Some plans from governor hopefuls include building more shelters or requiring the homeless to first receive treatment for addiction or mental illness before being able to move into a shelter. The goal of this program is to get people off the streets so that all Californians can be safer.
Is this just a Band-Aid?
Project Homekey is the outgrowth of Project Roomkey, a program to acquire 15,000 hotel rooms across California to get people off the streets during COVID-19. Unfortunately, there are about 150,000 homeless people in California.
Making matters even worse for Project Roomkey, hotels like the W, Omni, Hotel Indigo, Bonaventure, Marriott, and Residence Inn declined to participate, which caused activists to call for a takeover of hotel rooms. Those efforts have been thwarted, at least for the time being.
What makes Project Homekey different is California buys the properties, renovates them, and gives the buildings to cities or counties that then work with local service providers. Residents get three meals a day and are encouraged to look for a job "when ready." Project Homekey is intended to be "permanent supportive housing, not temporary shelter."
The Millionacres bottom line
This new California effort should help ease some of the homeless problem, but it doesn't delve into the underlying reasons for the large homeless population. Plus, there are far more homeless people than there will be rooms available under Project Homekey, even after the billions of dollars spent. And of course, locals are objecting to these new shelters in the sort of NIMBY way one might expect.