Oakland’s homeless programs in jeopardy after Newsom suspends funding

The Youth Spirit Artworks transitional housing site is one of many programs in Oakland that depend on funding that Governor Gavin Newsom has cut. Credit: Pete Rosos

Oakland’s homeless shelters and programs serving hundreds of homeless people are at risk following Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement on Thursday that he is suspending promised $1 billion in funding to cities .

Newsom said he is withholding money from the Housing, Assistance and Prevention of Homelessness (HHAP) grant program until cities come up with more effective plans to address homelessness. .

“California people demand accountability and results,” he said in a Press release. “Everyone must do better – cities, counties and the state included.”

The surprise announcement worries local leaders and advocates.

Oakland is counting on more than $24 million from this latest third round of HHAPs, which has been a major source of funding for the city’s homelessness strategy in recent years. In June, City Council approved a plan to spend the HHAP-3 dollars on several of its “community cabin” shelters, parking areas for RVs, an emergency group shelter, and sanitation services in the camps.

“The loss of HHAP funds will result in an immediate reduction in shelter capacity as people lose their shelters and return to the streets,” City Administrator Ed Reiskin said in a statement.

Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement that she was “puzzled as to how delaying HHAP funds advances our shared goals.”

In order to receive HHAP-3 funds, cities had to submit “action plans” explaining who their homelessness systems serve, other resources used and program goals. Newsom said the plans submitted by the cities would collectively reduce homelessness in the state by 2% by 2024, which he said was not enough. He said he will “convene local leaders in mid-November” to come up with better strategies.

“Oakland followed the state process exactly as stated, so we hope this pause incorporates our front-line wisdom and improves on last year’s process,” Schaaf said in his statement.

Oakland officials planned to use this round of HHAP funds to pay for programs offering a total of nearly 700 beds. Each night, this would serve well over 2% of the city’s estimated consumption. 5,055 people without housing. However, a recent check Oakland homelessness programs have found that many do not meet their goals of moving participants into permanent housing and others are not followed up.

Newsom’s announcement comes just days before voters decide whether to re-elect him. Writing to Cal MattersEmily Hoeven said Newsom’s decision ‘seems to serve as an implicit reminder to Californians’ ahead of the election that ‘he is not solely responsible for the state’s growing homeless population’ .

Leaders of other Bay Area cities also expressed dismay and confusion at the decision.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed criticized Newsom for creating “more hoops for local governments to jump through without any clear explanation of what is needed.”

Oakland Homelessness Services relies on other funding sources in addition to HHAP, including local tax and bond measures and state and federal government COVID-19 relief funds.

With Caltrans leading a major closure of the largest camp in Oakland, on Wood Street in West Oakland, the city is using $8.3 million from the state to set up a new shack site there for displaced residents. These encampment grants come from a different pot of money than the HHAP funds, so this week’s decision doesn’t jeopardize those plans.

However, this summer Newsom threatened to terminate this price too.