Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order on January 8th with the aim of repurposing state infrastructure to provide shelter and other assistance to the homeless population of California.


Citing data that classified over two thirds of the California homeless population as ‘unsheltered’, the order called for five actions to identify and utilize existing state resources for the provision of emergency short-term housing: the repurposing of ‘excess state land’, the assessment of all state facilities to determine which additional facilities can provide such housing, the repurposing of Caltrans property adjacent to highways, the repurposing of vacant and decommissioned hospitals, and finally the repurposing of fairgrounds not in current use.


According to the order, the Department of Finance is to be responsible for the creation of the $750 million California Access to Housing and Services Fund that will pay rent for individuals on the brink of homelessness in addition to the $695 million that is to be allocated for preventative health care coverage for the homeless.


The Department of General Services is also called on to allocate and distribute 100 trailers in coordination with a distribution of tents by the Emergency Medical Services Authority. The order qualifies that the ‘local partners’ to whom the resources are to be distributed must be capable of distributing and maintaining the tents and trailers, and also that they are able to provide resources and support to help transition the newly-sheltered homeless into permanent housing. Finally, the partners are responsible for the development and publication of metrics that report their progress in fulfilling these terms.


The formation of a ‘strike team’ comprised of members of various state agencies is also called for, with the essential purpose of acting as a go-between of the state and its ‘local partners’ to better connect the latter with the resources and services provided by the former.


While the order has been characterized by Doty Cabrera, Executive Director of the County Behavioral Health Directors Association as “a significant investment” that “is appropriately trying to deploy all the state’s resources”, it has also received criticism as ignorant of the several regulations and zoning laws in place that will interfere with the enactment of the order’s enumerated actions. “You can’t just throw money at homelessness and expect that you’re going to achieve the result that you’re hoping to achieve,” according to Legislative Director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association David Wolfe.


The order is stated to go into effect by January 31st, with a February 28th deadline for the government divisions referenced in the bill to develop metrics by which they can be held accountable for fulfilling the terms of the order. The Department of General Services will be responsible for distributing tents and trailers from the date the order was issued until September 30th.