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Challengers attack Gov. Newsom’s record on homelessness

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Whilst Gov. Gavin Newsom boasts of California’s financial resurgence after the COVID-19 lockdowns, the tens of 1000’s of Californians residing on the streets supply a searing counterpoint — a nagging reminder of the human struggling that has turn out to be a central focus of the long-shot candidates hoping to disclaim the Democratic governor a second time period in November.

Thus far, Newsom holds the higher hand, due to the highlight afforded to an incumbent and a $25-million reelection warfare chest that might simply swamp his challengers. However these benefits might be diminished if the sight of ever-growing encampments leaves voters skeptical that the governor has made any vital progress to alleviate the state’s homelessness disaster, or not less than has prevented it from rising worse.

Two of Newsom’s most vocal challengers — Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle of Bieber in Lassen County and Bay Space vitality and homeless coverage activist Michael Shellenberger, a Democrat turned unbiased — hope to faucet into festering voter anger over homelessness, crime and different quality-of-life points as a method to overcome Newsom’s huge political benefits.

They’ve accused the governor of being beholden to the failed housing and homelessness insurance policies of the far left. Whereas ideologically completely different, each males are calling for a crackdown on homeless encampments and larger incentives for drug customers and the mentally ailing to obtain remedy when offered housing.

“There’s no lack of cash in California. I’ve by no means seen a lot cash in politics, however I’ve additionally by no means seen so many individuals sad with what the federal government’s doing on the identical time,” mentioned Dahle, referring to an estimated state price range surplus that might high $30 billion by subsequent summer season. “I believe that persons are waking up and realizing that we don’t have a cash downside. We’ve a coverage downside.”

Shellenberger blames California’s predicament on beneficiant, no-strings-attached applications championed by the Newsom administration and liberal leaders of the state’s largest cities, together with Los Angeles and San Francisco. Tent cities have become drug dens, he mentioned, and housing is being offered to folks no matter whether or not they search remedy for dependancy or psychological sickness.

“The explanation we have now so many homeless folks is as a result of we spend a lot cash on homelessness,” mentioned Shellenberger. “That’s the way you created the issue. You promote to each homeless drug addict and mentally ailing particular person in the USA that they’re going to get a free residence in Venice Seashore and, if not, then they will simply keep on Venice Seashore and [its] open drug scene.”

Newsom and Democratic state lawmakers have poured $12 billion in state and federal cash into efforts to ease California’s homelessness disaster, which he known as a “shame” two years in the past when promising that the problem could be the top priority of his administration. The efforts have led to 58,000 folks being positioned in shelters or housing because the outbreak of the pandemic beneath the state-funded Mission Roomkey and Mission Homekey, which purchased hotels and other buildings to be transformed into housing for these in want.

In January, Newsom announced a proposed state budget calling for an extra $2 billion over a two-year interval to spice up efforts geared toward getting folks out of encampments and into shelters whereas offering further psychological well being providers. His administration budgeted $50 million to scrub up makeshift campsites and is now asking lawmakers to kick in an extra $500 million. Final month, Newsom proposed the creation of “care courts,” which would offer court-ordered psychological sickness and dependancy remedy for the severely stricken, an estimated 7,000 to 12,000 of the state’s homeless inhabitants.

Current polls present that voters see little, if any, progress. They offer the governor failing grades on the problem, making it amongst his best political vulnerabilities. Newsom is keenly conscious of these frustrations.

“I can actually quantify 58,000 those who we bought off the streets final yr, and none of you’d imagine it,” he mentioned in January when unveiling his price range. “I wouldn’t imagine it. I see what you see. You’re like, ‘Give me a break.’”

In a February poll by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, co-sponsored by The Times, Two-thirds of registered voters mentioned Newsom is doing a poor or very poor job addressing homelessness — a rise of 12 share factors from 2020. Voters have been virtually evenly break up over Newsom’s general efficiency as governor.

“Issues haven’t gotten higher for him. It’s actually the highest difficulty in sure areas of the state, and till we begin to see some progress, you’ll in all probability proceed to be dragged down by it,” mentioned Mark DiCamillo, director of the Berkeley ballot.

The query is whether or not it would impression Newsom’s reelection marketing campaign, DiCamillo mentioned. None of Newsom’s challengers, together with Dahle and Shellenberger, are well-known to California voters, he mentioned. In addition they lack the monetary assets to rapidly increase their political profile in a state the place profitable a gubernatorial marketing campaign routinely price tens of tens of millions of {dollars}.

Dahle, a farmer from the Northern California town of Bieber who served 16 years as a county supervisor, stays sober about his prospects and is nicely conscious that no Republican has received a statewide election in California since 2006. However he mentioned Californians are fed up with rising homelessness and crime and are determined for brand spanking new management.

Dahle has known as for an audit of homelessness applications whereas boosting rehabilitation and psychological well being providers, together with these provided by nonprofits and faith-based organizations. He favors constructing extra shelters, rushing up the development of reasonably priced housing and imposing fewer building limits beneath the landmark California Environmental High quality Act.

“The governor’s plan is to only throw cash at these things,” Dahle mentioned. “I’m a farmer. You possibly can’t simply throw seeds on the bottom and anticipate them to develop.”

Shellenberger, who describes himself as a former progressive, supported the ouster of Newsom within the Sept. 14 recall election and ran for governor in 2018 as a Democrat, profitable lower than 1% of the first vote. He argues that Newsom has made the homeless disaster worse by failing to handle the core difficulty: the necessity to require remedy for drug addicts and the mentally ailing residing on the streets.

“I believe folks bought it flawed for therefore lengthy, significantly viewing it as a housing downside,” he mentioned. “I believe we have now a housing scarcity. However I don’t assume it’s a housing downside. I believe it’s basically an untreated psychological sickness and drug dependancy downside, which makes it a damaged healthcare system downside.”

Shellenberger’s thought is to create a statewide psychiatric and dependancy care system known as Cal Psych, which might take over as the first supplier of providers now managed by counties and cities. Shellenberger additionally needs to crack down on homeless encampments, which he describes as breeding grounds for drug use and lawlessness.

“If you happen to’re utilizing medication in public, if you happen to’re tenting in public, you’re defecating in public, you ought to be warned. However if you happen to’re refusing to conform or are a number of occasions arrested, [you should be] introduced earlier than a decide and provided remedy as the choice to incarceration,” Shellenberger mentioned.

He believes non permanent shelter must be made obtainable to everybody, however these looking for everlasting housing have to be required to hunt remedy if they’ve dependancy or psychological well being points — a prerequisite Shellenberger says has been opposed by Newsom and different liberal politicians. In his 2021 guide, “San Fransicko: Why Progressives Wreck Cities,” Shellenberger lays out the criticism intimately and rips Newsom for failing to ship on his 2018 campaign promise to build 500,000 new units of housing annually for six straight years.

Jason Elliott, a Newsom advisor on housing and homelessness, mentioned the governor has aggressively pushed native governments to create housing required beneath state legislation, even threatening authorized motion. He dismissed the thought of requiring homeless folks to “earn their proper to housing” by sustaining sobriety or forcing them into remedy, characterizing it as an archaic, merciless coverage that was promoted by the administration of former President Trump.

“If you happen to break your leg in America, we don’t let you know that it’s a must to earn your method into crutches, proper?” Elliott mentioned. “Psychological well being is a illness, and like a damaged leg, it’s a medical situation. So let’s carry just a little compassion to this work.”

Dr. Margot Kushel, a professor of medication at UC San Francisco and director of the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative, says the dearth of reasonably priced housing is central to the disaster. It’s no coincidence that California, with its excessive rents and residential costs, is in such a dire state of affairs, whereas extra reasonably priced states — the place residents even have substance abuse and psychological well being issues — are significantly better off with regards to homelessness, she mentioned.

“California is in such unhealthy form due to 40 years or extra of very unhealthy coverage selections round housing that actually put us on this place,” Kushel mentioned. “We’re not going to get out of it rapidly, it doesn’t matter what anybody does.”