Constituent policy

Video: Homelessness in California Cities

Recent infusions of state and federal funding have helped many California cities and counties address homelessness, even as homeless populations have grown in recent years. PPIC’s Lande Ajose spoke last week with the CEO of the League of California Cities Caroline ColemanMayor of Bakerfield Karen Gohand the mayor of San Diego Todd Gloria on the efforts made by cities and the most important challenges that need to be addressed.

“I think it’s important to remind people that we find ourselves in the situation we find ourselves in today following a crisis that has been brewing for decades,” Carolyn Coleman said. “We are not going to solve the homelessness crisis overnight.” She defined three lines of attack: first, to step up efforts to prevent homelessness; second, to continue to find and share innovative local solutions; and third, to urge the federal government to play a bigger role in resolving what is truly a national crisis. “The state and the cities alone,” she said, “do not have the financial wherewithal to solve this problem alone. We really need a stronger federal partnership.

Many of the factors that contribute to the homelessness crisis – from the shortage of affordable housing, to the challenge of getting people with mental health and addictions into treatment, to the vicissitudes of state and federal funding – extend well beyond the local level. But, unlike seemingly abstract forces or national leaders, “mayors are in communities and so we are held accountable,” Gloria said. So while both mayors highlighted the significant progress their cities have made in adding shelter beds, expanding outreach and behavioral health treatment services, and building permanent housing, both understand that their constituents are frustrated. “Our residents, our business owners are angry, they’re frustrated,” Goh said. “It’s hard for them to see progress.”

What are the keys to progress? All agreed that California’s New CARE Courts will make a difference. “CARE Court,” Goh said, “is part of the solution.” These courts, she added, will rise to the challenge of helping people with serious mental health issues. “It’s going to help us get them into treatment,” she added.

Goh and Gloria applauded recent state and federal funding – “the flexibility of dollars is going to make a big difference because every city is unique,” Goh said. However, both mayors agree with Coleman that the federal government could do more. “I would tell you what we need is more good housing choices,” Gloria said. “San Diego basically has a 12-year waiting list for Section 8 assistance, and that’s an extreme challenge both for preventing homelessness and for helping people who are on the streets. “

Collaboration with county, state and federal partners is also essential. “I have very blunt instruments to deal with homelessness: sanitation workers, police officers, firefighters, paramedics,” Mayor Gloria said. “I don’t have mental health clinicians, I don’t have social workers, I don’t have behavioral health specialists — the county has those people.” When the city’s real estate assets are combined with the county’s social services, he added, “that’s when you really get the ability to change someone’s life.”


PPIC’s Future of California Speaker Series invites thought leaders and changemakers with diverse perspectives to participate critically, constructively, and collaboratively in public conversations. The goal is to give Californians a better understanding of how our leaders are addressing the challenges facing our state.

PPIC is a non-partisan, non-profit organization. PPIC does not take or support any position on any election action or local, state or federal legislation, nor does it support, endorse or oppose any political party or candidate for public office. All opinions expressed by event attendees are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Public Policy Institute of California.