As DeSantis debate looms, Newsom touts record of homeless encampment clearings

Ahead of his Thursday evening Fox News debate with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Gov. Gavin Newsom is seeking to burnish his record on homelessness.

Newsom announced Monday evening that nearly 5,700 encampments belonging to unhoused people have been cleared from state right-of-way since July 2021.

It’s unclear how many people were removed from those encampments.

In addition, Newsom’s office said the state is making available $299 million in grant funding to local governments to tackle homelessness, with half of the money dedicated to continuing the work of clearing encampments.

The funds are not new. The state is simply preparing to award another round of money from the Encampment Resolution Funding program it created in 2021.

“Since day one, combating homelessness has been a top priority. Encampments are not safe for the people living in them, or for community members around them,” Newsom said in a statement.

The grants will be distributed by the California Interagency Council on Homelessness, with applications open now through June 30, 2024, or when funds are exhausted. The council already has awarded $414 million to 66 communities during the past three years, according to the governor’s office.

“Housing is the solution to homelessness, and these grants will help our local partners assist their unhoused neighbors move from dangerous and unsightly encampments into safe and stable places they can call home,” said council Executive Officer Meghan Marshall.

According to the governor’s office, the state has spent a total of $750 million so far to help an estimated 23,000 people to get off the streets.

The announcement comes as Newsom, a second-term Democrat, looks to inoculate himself from attacks on his track record on homelessness. DeSantis a vocal Republican critic, is a candidate for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. He lags far behind former president Donald Trump in national and primary state polls.

Newsom is also championing a bond set to go before California voters in March that would authorize $6.38 billion to be spent on more than 11,150 behavioral health beds and housing and 26,700 outpatient treatment slots for mental health services.

Advocates for the unhoused argue that the state is not doing enough to provide adequate housing and shelter.

“California needs to be addressing homeless encampments immediately by providing real access to affordable housing and shelter for impoverished Californians struggling to make ends meet,” Zal K. Shroff of the San Francisco-based Coalition on Homelessness said in a statement in September.