California’s governor on Wednesday blamed the Trump administration for withholding data needed to release $650 million in state aid to combat homelessness.
California’s cities and counties have been waiting since June for the money approved by the Legislature. But state law says the money can only be distributed based on federally approved homelessness counts for 2019.
Most California communities submitted their homeless counts months ago. But the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has not yet approved them.
Gov. Gavin Newsom called the delay “politicized roadblocks put up by the Trump administration.”
Instead of waiting, Newsom said his administration has collected preliminary homeless data from California communities. Based on those numbers, Newsom said the state will open applications involving as much as $500 million of the money. The rest will be distributed once the federal numbers are approved.
“California is making historic investments now to help our communities fight homelessness. But we have work to do and we need the federal government to do its part,” Newsom said.
Based on previous years’ data, it doesn’t seem to be unusual that HUD has yet to approve the 2019 numbers. The 2018 numbers were not released until Dec. 17, according to a news release posted on HUD’s website.
HUD declined to respond to Newsom’s criticism but said the count will be released in mid-December.
Homelessness has been on the rise across California, fueled by an increasing cost of living and a shortage of housing in the nation’s most populous state. This summer, a count in San Francisco found the city had a 17% increase in homelessness over the past two years.
The problem was worse in Alameda County, which includes Oakland, where officials reported a 43% increase in homelessness over the past two years. In Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the country, homelessness jumped 12% over last year to nearly 59,000 people.
Newsom’s comments come as his administration battles with President Donald Trump over the state’s handling of its homelessness problem.
Trump has been critical of California’s leaders for their handling of the homelessness problem. A fter a visit to the state in September, Trump said cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco were “destroying themselves.” A month later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice to San Francisco that it was violating the federal Clean Water Act by allowing waste from homeless populations to flow through storm drains to the Pacific Ocean.
City officials denied the allegations.
Newsom added intrigue to the dispute by announcing Wednesday he had hired Matthew Doherty as an “expert advisor.” The Trump administration dismissed Doherty last month as the executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
“Much more federal investment is needed to make meaningful progress and solve this crisis,” Doherty said.
Trump’s comments, and his numerous other battles with California over things like vehicle emissions and water management, have advocates worried his administration might be intentionally delaying the data.
“I think it worries all of us that they are somehow trying to politicize the numbers or use them for some political purpose,” said Anya Lawler, a policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.
Homeless counts are submitted to HUD by continuums of care, a HUD-designated group of service providers in a particular area. Shawn Jenkins, chairman of the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care, said it usually takes HUD a while to release the data because they have to approve numbers from across the country. But he said there is usually little variation between what the communities submit to HUD and the numbers the federal government approves.
“I don’t have any heartburn over the governor using preliminary numbers the Continuum of Care submitted to HUD as a basis for the funding,” Jenkins said.
Of the $650 million, $275 million would go to the state’s 13 most populous cities, $175 million to county governments and $190 million to continuums of care.
Newsom has said the money can be used for emergency shelters, offering rental assistance and converting hotels and motels to temporary or permanent housing.
“Even with these dollars, it’s not enough to end homelessness.,” Jenkins said.