Advocates for the homeless optimistic about Newsom’s plans after ‘decades of inaction’

Governor Gavin Newsom's $12 billion homelessness proposal needs legislative approval but is already winning raves from social service providers.

Homeless advocates say the issue has been neglected for too long.

"We're looking at a generational opportunity to move the dial on homelessness," said Jennifer Friedenbach, Executive Director of the Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco.

"We've got available real estate we've never had before and potentially the money from the state, so it's just a magical moment."

Three-quarters of the $12 billion would enable cities and counties to buy motels and convert them for homeless housing.  

San Francisco moved 2,500 people off the street into motels during the pandemic.

"It has been so transformative in people's lives, their health has improved, and the dignity of having a room makes such a difference," said Friedenbach.

But In neighborhoods with converted hotels, there may be opposition to adding more.

"I don't agree with it, to be honest," said Chris Ma, who owns a retail store in San Francisco's Marina District.

The nearby La Luna Hotel on Lombard Street has been housing homeless people during Covid-19.

Ma hasn't found them to be responsible neighbors.  

"They're actually kind-of taking advantage of all these hotels and trashing around the neighborhood which brings down the value of our neighborhood."

With 161,000 people experiencing homelessness in California, the state's Homekey program is seen as an effective way to clear camps and provide people with services.

About one-third of homeless people struggle with mental illness or substance abuse. 

"Last year in San Francisco, almost 2,000 people who were sent to psych emergency services were released to the streets without even a referral to care because there was no care that existed," lamented Friedenbach.

She notes, about 1,000 families also sought shelter in the city last year.

Friedenbach says families are often hidden and invisible, doubling up in households or living in vehicles.

She recalls pushing Newsom on the problem when he was San Francisco mayor more than a decade ago.

"We had homeless families meet with him back then and now we see a major investment in ending family homelessness and we couldn't be more thrilled."

There will be challenges: locating properties, hiring staff, and hoping when back-rents come due after Covid, more people are not swept onto the streets.

But optimism is high: "We're talking about a huge change, huge, we're talking about thousands of people getting off the street," said Friedenbach.

Already, some 70 San Francisco hotel owners have expressed willingness to sell their properties for conversion to homeless housing.