Capitol Alert

Gavin Newsom drops plan for a California ‘homeless czar.’ Here’s what he’s doing instead

Gavin Newsom on homelessness: “This issue is out of control in the state.”

Democrats have a lot of work to do on affordability and homelessness said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
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Democrats have a lot of work to do on affordability and homelessness said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is backing away from his campaign promise to appoint a “cabinet-level secretary” on homelessness.

Newsom instead plans to rely on a homelessness task force led by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Newsom told reporters on Tuesday.

“To me it’s a distinction that is insignificant. They’re profoundly influential to me, de facto cabinet members,” Newsom said. “They have complete, universal access to me, more than, I would argue, even cabinet members.”

Newsom during his campaign last year produced a commercial in which he pledged to appoint an executive in his office to focus exclusively on homelessness.

When Newsom first named Steinberg to the task force in February, the governor’s office said he still planned to appoint a so-called “czar” to his cabinet in addition to the task force.

The shift means there won’t be a top aide in Newsom’s office working full-time on homelessness, but Newsom stressed that the issue is still one of his top priorities.

“That committee is profoundly important and I’m looking forward to big things coming from their work,” he said.

One in four homeless people in the U.S. live in California. It’s a problem exacerbated by the state’s housing shortage and high home costs.

In Sacramento, about 5,570 people are homeless, according a recent survey. Steinberg, who as mayor already has a full schedule running the city, has promised to get 2,000 of them off the streets by 2020 and has focused his attention on opening large “rehousing” shelters.

Newsom and the Legislature doled out $650 million to cities and counties to fund shelters and other programs aimed at getting people off the streets in the annual state budget. They also allocated an additional $350 million for other programs to help homeless people, including for mental health services and college student housing.

Newsom has created a number of new positions in the Governor’s Office and increased its budget by 22 percent above what former Gov. Jerry Brown spent last year. For instance, Newsom appointed three senior advisers to focus on early childhood issues and created a position for a state surgeon general.

Many departments within the executive branch from Caltrans to the department of social services agencies are already addressing homelessness. Earlier this month, the Newsom administration began circulating a job description on the California Department of Human Resources website for a deputy secretary of homelessness within the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, which reports to the governor’s office.

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Sophia Bollag covers California politics and government. Before joining The Bee, she reported in Sacramento for the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. She grew up in California and is a graduate of Northwestern University.
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