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More than 100 advocates, policymakers, affordable housing providers, and grassroots community organizations gathered on the Capitol steps to call on the governor and legislators to allocate ongoing funding for housing and homelessness and avoid a “funding cliff.” (Photo Courtesy of Jen Wheeler)
More than 100 advocates, policymakers, affordable housing providers, and grassroots community organizations gathered on the Capitol steps to call on the governor and legislators to allocate ongoing funding for housing and homelessness and avoid a “funding cliff.” (Photo Courtesy of Jen Wheeler)
Clara Harter

A coalition of housing advocates and politicians are calling on California  to take off of the chopping block as the state looks for ways to deal with its .

The draft of California’s fiscal year 2024 to 2025 budget calls for a significant rollback in funding as well as a funding delay for housing programs serving families, seniors and people with disabilities.

Members of the Bring California Home Coalition say the consequences of the proposed changes could be disastrous and rallied on the steps of the state Capitol Tuesday, April 2 to call for an ongoing commitment to homelessness funding.

“Homelessness is the top issue for many Californians and we need to make sure that it’s the top issue for our state government too,” said Assemblymember Luz Rivas, D-San Fernando Valley. “We need permanent funding or else we’ll end up with a permanent crisis.”

The draft budget follows the projection of a $58 billion deficit by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office in January. Since then, the office’s projection has , signaling that further cuts may be added to the May budget update.

The deficit is primarily driven by a drop in state revenues. The rising costs of goods and interest rates have resulted in Californians spending and borrowing less. In addition, the decision to delay the 2022 tax filing deadline to November led officials to miscalculate projected tax revenues.

Now, the state faces tough decisions about where to save money.

Many priorities such as public education, healthcare, behavioral health and transportation have dedicated annual funding streams. Advocates say homelessness should be treated the same way instead of being tackled piecemeal each budget cycle.

“Solutions to homelessness are not something that we can fund only when we have a surplus or only when we feel like it — that’s what got us into this crisis,” said Alex Visotzky, policy fellow with the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “People are dying on our streets every day from this crisis, so we need to start funding the solutions that work consistently day in, day out.”

The Bring California Home Coalition is particularly concerned about the proposed cut to the , which provides local governments with grants to move people off of the streets and into permanent housing.

HHAP was launched by ɫ̳om in 2019 and has been allocated $1 billion in annual funding over the last three budget cycles. This budget cycle it is set to receive zero dollars.

“California has made significant progress in recognizing that homes end homelessness,” said Assemblymember Chris Ward, D-San Diego. “But California cannot solve its homelessness crisis without a commitment to creating more homes that people can afford through rental subsidies, rental assistance and building new affordable housing.”

In addition to the loss of HHAP funding, the draft budget proposes a one-year funding pause for the Bringing Families Home, Home Safe, and the Housing and Disability Advocacy programs, which provide housing resources to families, seniors and people with disabilities.

“Our local homeless response systems are serving more people than ever before, thanks in large part to state investment — proving that if we funded housing to scale, on an ongoing basis, we would make significant progress in solving homelessness.” said Sharon Rapport, California state policy director at the Corporation for Supportive Housing. “If we zero out those programs, we’ll run right off the funding cliff, and we’ll see more families, seniors and people with disabilities on the street.”

Rapport warned that the consequences could be especially dire in Los Angeles, where about 40% of the state’s homeless population lives.

“If we were to stop HHAP funding, then whatever progress local communities are making could come to a screeching halt,” she said in an interview. “I just don’t want to see that happen and specifically in L.A. where we have such a huge homeless population and so many people dying.”

She understands that some people may feel frustrated by the limited progress made on homelessness, however she also believes that the problem would have grown considerably worse without the slew of recent funding.

“A lot of us expected to see really huge increases in homelessness, because of COVID, because of the eviction moratorium ending and that hasn’t happened yet because of all the state funding and federal funding that’s been allocated over the last few years,” she said.

Experts say there are two main ways that the state could create an ongoing source of homeless funding. It could create a permanent set aside in the budget–as exists for other priorities such as education — or it can create a new revenue source, such as a tax dedicated to funding homelessness services.

Either of these could be enacted through a bill in the state legislature or a voter-approved ballot measure.

“There are different ways to achieve that goal, but we don’t have a preference as long as we know we’re getting ongoing funding at scale, for solutions that are proven to work,” Rapport said.

Rapport also noted that ongoing funding would allow homeless service organizations to operate more effectively.

They would no longer need to shift their service models based on the latest requirements and availability of state grants, she said. The uncertainty around future funding also keeps wages in the homeless service sector low, hindering organizations’ ability to recruit and retain quality workers, she added.

“Budgets reflect our values, and the lack of ongoing funds indicates solving homelessness is not currently a priority,” said Reba Stevens, with the Bring California Home Coalition. “Unpredictable funding forces service providers, already stretched thin, to jump through multiple hoops to unlock critical grant funds and sprinting just to stay in place, rather than scaling up to meet the crisis.”

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