Gov. Newsom previews plan to use 100 FEMA trailers for emergency homeless shelters across California

Gabrielle Canon, USA TODAY
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to the press at the end of his statewide homelessness tour in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom ended his weeklong trip across the state in a city that has been hit harder by the homelessness crisis than any other: Oakland. He toured a site with more than a dozen FEMA trailers, now owned by the state, that soon will serve as temporary emergency housing for displaced locals.

“We own this issue — it is the issue of our time,” Newsom said, speaking from a podium inside a white emergency tent that will be used as a triage medical center at the new site. “It has happened on our watch, and we need to beat this moment."  

Newsom said the officials gathered behind him at the site near the Oakland Coliseum — including Assemblyman Rob Bonta and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf — are up to the challenge. 

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and California Gov. Gavin Newsom tour a new site where the state will provide emergency housing for the homeless in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020.

The "homelessness tour" —  focused on understanding the crisis that’s left more than 151,000 Californians without housing — came just days after the governor released his budget proposal which called for more than $1 billion in new funding to address the issue, including a $750 million new Access to Housing Services Fund.

Those funds are in addition to the more than $600 million in emergency grant funding, allocated in last year’s budget, which was doled out this week.

Newsom said $38 million will go to the city of Oakland and Alameda County, “distributed in real-time to meet this crisis head-on.” He added that “$19.7 million is available today, immediately, for the city of Oakland to address rapid rehousing and recuperative care."  

The Oakland site is a preview of how Newsom plans use up to 100 of these trailers, deployed across the state, to serve emergency shelters. The new program will rely on the roughly $1 billion the governor made available to tackle homelessness in his 2020-21 budget proposal. The budget also includes a $750 million fund to help providers pay rents for those on the brink of becoming homeless or fund affordable housing.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf joins Gov. Gavin Newsom, Assemblymember Rob Bonta and other officials to launch a new plan to tackle the state's homelessness crisis in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020.

Schaaf, a member of the governor’s statewide task force on homelessness, said she was excited to be first to deploy the emergency trailers. She said the 15 trailers could house between 50 and 70 people. Nine will be stationed at the coliseum and the other six will be used to housed homeless youth in partnership with the city of Berkeley and other organizations.

“This is what it takes — every level of government cooperating,” Schaaf said.

Earlier this week, the council said it will push the California Legislature to draft a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to sanction localities that fail to get people experiencing homeless off the street. Schaaf said that would help ensure accountability.

“We know that shelter is not the ultimate answer,” she said. “That is why I, along with other members of the governor’s homeless council, are urging the legislature to bring to voters of California, a constitutional amendment that will create a legally enforceable mandate to end homelessness. The first step, is for us to be held accountable to the people of California that we are doing everything we can with the resources and regulatory powers that we have to put an end to this travesty.”

The number of Oakland residents who don't have housing rose by roughly 47% over a two-year period as rents continue to rise. The city’s housing issues also made headlines after a group of displaced moms took residence inside an empty home. They were forcibly evicted this week, and four were arrested.

Like stories about the Golden State? Click here to get our In California newsletter in your inbox.

Newsom acknowledged that the shelter isn't a solution to the crisis, but said it would give the state more time to provide permanent housing and implement programs that would both prevent the numbers from rising. 

"No one is in denial about the scale and scope of the crisis," he said. "None of us are naive that 15 former-FEMA trailers now in state control and state-owned is going to solve the crisis. It is about catalyzing a focus, catalyzing investment, and beginning to leverage our resources and resourcefulness to meet this moment head-on."

Earlier in the week Newsom visited Grass Valley, a city in Northern California, where he spoke with homeless service providers, and traveled to Southern California, with stops in Riverside and Los Angeles, before heading back north to Fresno to tour Exodus Recovery, Inc., an organization that services youth and adults struggling through mental health crises.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Calif. Gov. Newsom concludes statewide homelessness tour in Oakland