In February, California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) introduced the “No Place Like Home Initiative” to the Senate Budget Committee. The package includes initiatives aimed at assisting different homeless populations, from the chronically homeless to families in need of temporary assistance in getting back on their feet, as cities around the state face growing numbers of homeless residents.
The package was first introduced at a press conference on Feb. 22 at The Star Apartments, a modular permanent housing and health care complex in Skid Row.
The location was symbolic – the district is adjacent to the one that de León represents. Days later, members of the Senate Budget Committee heard testimony from advocates statewide about the struggle of homeless people across California, addressing how the “housing first” strategy that the No Place Like Home Initiative offers could have lasting and meaningful impact on homeless populations, including those with mental illness and parents and guardians awaiting reunification with their children who have been placed in foster care.
The initiative seeks to repurpose monies from Proposition 63, the 2004 Mental Health Services Act, into a $2 billion bond to construct permanent, supportive housing for, specifically, chronically homeless persons with mental illness.
This is not a state legislator’s first attempt at addressing homelessness in California.
Last year, Assemblymember Ken Cooley introduced Assembly Bill 870, focused specifically on rapid rehousing for homeless populations. The price tag of AB 870 was a mere $2 million in comparison to the more than $10 million from the General Fund and $2 billion from Proposition 63 that the No Place Like Home Initiative is requesting.
Sources in the legislature say that AB 870 was “neutered” by the budget committee when the bill was stripped of the $2 million in appropriations, despite support from advocacy groups including Housing California, League of California Cities, California Police Chiefs Association, and several county governments. The bill passed out of committee empty of appropriations and was sent to the Senate. Cooley removed the bill from consideration once it made it to the Senate floor in September 2015, given that a bill without funding was ineffective. According to sources, the bill’s funding was removed because “it was not considered a priority at the time.”
Although the current proposal includes financial requests for other homeless populations, including funds to support foster care youth and those with disabilities, both AB 870 and the No Place Like Home Initiative emphasize the importance of rapid rehousing for combatting homelessness. Research has shown that providing temporary housing and financial assistance to those who are homeless is a critical first step in allowing individuals to get back on their feet. Rapid rehousing provides personal safety from the elements and dangers on the street and as place to store personal items, so individuals can focus on seeking employment and locating additional services without fear of bodily harm or theft.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness website, although the research has shown successes in smaller local and state studies, there is yet to be a major national study that supports rapid rehousing as a solution.
Craig Cornett, budget and fiscal director for de León, explained that the No Place Like Home package includes some means of using Proposition 63 funds in bonds to leverage more dollars, but that the state’s capacity is limited.
“The state cannot fund, over the long-term, transitional housing,” de Leon said. “It’s a local government responsibility. But the state can be a catalyst for these programs.”
Victoria Rocha is a candidate for a Master of Public Administration degree at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy. She wrote this article while taking the school’s Media for Policy Change course.