Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a $200 million boost to his Project Homekey homeless housing fund in San Jose on Friday — a major cash infusion that will back several Bay Area projects.
But he also acknowledged the challenges his administration faces with its anti-homelessness efforts, even admitting there’s not enough housing for everyone temporarily sheltered in pandemic hotels.
“We see what’s happened to the state as it relates to the issue of homelessness. We recognize our responsibility to do more,” Newsom said. “I want folks to know that we’re not going to walk away from this. We have people now doing things in a way that they’ve never done before, and we’re producing results in a way we haven’t seen before either.”
One of those unprecedented efforts is Project Homekey — an effort to helps cities and counties turn hotels and other buildings into long-term housing for homeless Californians, including those who have been temporarily sheltering in hotels during the coronavirus pandemic. On Friday, Newsom doled out $81.4 million to six projects that will provide 430 new units of housing for homeless Californians. That includes two projects in Oakland, and one each in San Francisco and Santa Clara County.
But Project Homekey hasn’t been a perfect solution. Though the state has sheltered 22,203 people in temporary hotels, as those programs begin to end, Homekey has funded just 5,076 new housing units. Residents in some Santa Clara County hotels recently received notices that there is “no promise of permanent housing” after their hotel stay, and outreach workers worry people vulnerable to COVID-19 will end up back on the street.
Newsom said his administration is working with every county that has partnered with the state to house people in hotels, and is trying to find housing for those people on a case-by-case basis.
“We’re not naive,” he said. “I mean, we did something unprecedented, historic, no other state in the nation came close to doing — and that’s getting 22,203 people support in those 16,000 or so units that we were able to procure just since April. None of us suggested that we could match that in terms of permanency, but we are committed to each and every individual.”
Another hurdle for Newsom’s anti-homelessness efforts is some city officials’ reluctance to participate. After Santa Clara County received a $29.2 million Homekey grant to turn a Milpitas hotel into homeless housing, the Milpitas City Council voted this week to sue “any and all parties” involved in the project.
Newsom made a plea Friday to the council members attempting to block the 132-unit project.
“I get the pressure you’re under, but you’re going to look back in your life, and you’re going to regret this,” he said. “You have an incredible moment in time. It’s a moral damn moment. Do the right thing.”
Newsom launched Project Homekey with $600 million earlier this year. But the funding was quickly used up as applications poured in. Last month, Newsom said he was seeking an additional $200 million. On Friday, he said the state’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee approved his request.
As part of those new funds, San Francisco won $29.1 million to purchase the 130-room Hotel Diva near Union Square and convert it into permanent supportive housing.
Oakland won nearly $17.5 million for two projects — an 82-unit hotel and another 21-unit property for veterans. Santa Clara County won more than $9.5 million to buy a 54-unit building, which eventually will be developed into 110 new units of permanent supportive housing.
Newsom visited San Jose on Friday to tour modular homes that recently opened on Monterey Road. The program is unrelated to Project Homekey — but it’s one of three emergency housing sites San Jose is setting up in response to the pandemic. The units, which contain small, individual apartments, are where homeless residents will stay as they look for permanent housing. Fifty-three people have moved in so far, and the units are expected to reach their 78-person capacity in the next two weeks.
One of the new residents, 67-year-old Sandy Escobar, spoke to Newsom about her experience. She was thankful to have found a place that let her keep her fluffy, white dog, Bubbles — because so many other programs wouldn’t.
“I feel like I’m home,” said Escobar, who had been homeless six years.
Similar projects on Rue Ferrari and Evans Lane are set to open by Nov. 20, and will hold about 120 people and 110 people, respectively.
For the first time, Newsom also addressed a misstep in his administration’s and San Jose’s homelessness response — a botched effort to open 100 trailers to homeless residents in San Jose. When Newsom sent the old FEMA trailers to San Jose in March, they were in such bad shape that the city had to spend more than $1 million and two months fixing them. In the end, city officials decided it wasn’t worth it and scrapped the project — giving up on 100 units of housing.
“We tried to do our best,” Newsom said, “under emergency circumstances to provide trailers in whatever condition, based upon the emergency that was in front of us at the moment in the midst of this pandemic.”
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said at the time, no one knew how difficult it would be to make the trailers livable.
“What we know here in Silicon Valley is”, he said, when we innovate, we take risks, and sometimes it doesn’t work.”