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Combating homeless crisis in California | Gov. Newsom's one-on-one interview with CBS 8's Marcella Lee

Following an appearance in San Diego cleaning up a homeless encampment, Gov. Newsom spoke exclusively with CBS 8 about homelessness and other issues in California.


Governor Gavin Newsom spoke Wednesday morning alongside San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and worked at 17th and G streets cleaning up a homeless encampment that a dozen or so people used to call home.   

The governor is adding $2 billion in new funding for homelessness to last year's $12-billion effort. He said the money is being used to help people one by one get off the streets.  

Following his appearance in Downtown San Diego, Gov. Newsom spoke exclusively with CBS 8 Anchor Marcella Lee in a one-on-one interview about how the funding will be spent to combat the homeless crisis across California, how he plans to tackle housing affordability and scarcity and more.   

Below is a transcript and extended video of the governor’s exclusive interview with CBS 8:  

Marcella Lee:  The city of San Diego just delayed the homeless count because of omicron, but the last figures tell us there are about 8,000 people experiencing homelessness here in San Diego County. When we drive by and see these encampments, your heart goes out to people. I have a friend who used to be homeless, and he says a lot of people who are homeless don't want the help. They don't think they need the help. How are you going to get to them? 

Governor Gavin Newsom: Well, I mean, that was the case for 10 people that were in this encampment. Eight of them eventually agreed. It took a few weeks. You got to meet people where they are. I think this notion that we just give up on people because the first interaction, they say ‘no’ is getting in the way of real progress. I don't think anyone wants to live out in the streets and sidewalks or next to a freeway. We saw rats all around here, needles all around, feces right here. No one wants to live in these conditions. No one does, truly. But a lot of people are service resistant for many different reasons. Some that are self-medicating with drug or alcohol addictions with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, paranoia. Some that had terrible experiences in the shelters or have a spouse and the shelter doesn't even allow a spouse or have a dog or a cat, and they don't allow pets. So, the point being, you got to be creative, meet people where they are. You have to be stubborn. And we were stubborn. Three weeks of outreach. Three weeks. Not three times in three weeks; dozens of times. And we got here and now it gives us the opportunity to clean things up and to do what people demand. And that is to deal with what we see all throughout, not just San Diego, but the state, because it's unacceptable.  

Lee: When you talk about specifics, where did these eight people go, and how do you help them? Who is following their path? 

NewsomWell, we so [in] this case, we have a nonprofit, [citynet.org] a local nonprofit. Brad and his team are remarkable, well-established here in San Diego, and they are providing a list of options for folks. We have all kinds of new state programs. States have never been involved in homelessness in the past. I mean, I think people need to understand that. And as a former mayor, I deeply understand it because when I was mayor, we were on our own. It was the cities and the counties. The state didn't invest. That's changed in the last couple of years, but what I recognize is not everything's gotten better. In fact, COVID made things worse, particularly where it relates to encampments. So let me be specific. The state put up half a billion dollars in this year's budget, half a billion for resolution grants for cities to address the specific and unique issues in encampments, to address the underlying issues, to provide temporary shelter, to provide rapid rehousing, to provide drug treatment supports; at the same time, to provide resources to clean the areas up as one of many interventions - [part of a] $14 billion multi-year investments. 

Lee: So, we have the people who have been living in encampments. There are also a number of - I believe the figure has doubled at last count - people who are experiencing homelessness for the first time because perhaps they lost their job, they can't make their rent payment, and affordable housing is behind that wave of, I think, first time homeless people. How are you helping that echelon? 

NewsomWell in real-time. And $5.2 billion has been distributed to pay 100 percent of people's back rent as a prevention strategy. 145,000 households have had all their back rent taken care of and water and electric utilities. We're putting more money in the budget. There'll be more money coming out of the Legislature and announcements just in the next few weeks. Specifically, our $14 billion multi-year homeless plan. Again, four years ago, there wasn't $14, let alone $14 billion multi-year efforts are short term, medium and long term. But they're focused on underlying issues, including prevention dollars, subsidies to help people that are on the margins that may end up homeless and then an unprecedented investment. And this is I know - these numbers mean nothing to anybody. They want to see results. But $10.3 billion dollars in grants and tax credits on affordable housing, construction and starts and forgive me again, decades of neglect on housing and homelessness, but now focus and attention in ways we've never had in the past. 

Extended interview can be viewed here; transcript continues below:

Lee: People want to buy homes; they want to live in apartments. It’s impossible to find affordable rent. I know that California is doing some things to control rent, is there any more talk of preventing foreign investors or capping the rent? 

NewsomI mean California had the most expansive renter protections during COVID of any state in America, and those are not my words that's been well established from a national frame. The pundits across the country. That said, yeah, we have to do more to build more housing. Look, I don't think this is very complicated. I remember I think it was seventh grade and I was reminded of something the other day. It's Econ 101-- supply and demand. The demand is so great costs go up when there's constrained supply. We’ve got to build more housing at all income levels and that's why we're doing more with ADUs. That's why we're doing more low-income tax credits. That's why we're doing more on medium-income tax credit, what we call workforce - those in 50 to 120 percent of AMI - technical term. But the bottom line is we're doing what we can to help support cities and counties. But the state doesn't build the housing. It has to happen at the local level, but here's what's changed. We did this on homelessness and we did this in housing, a new housing accountability unit that is overseeing cities and counties to make sure they're meeting their prescribed responsibility for housing construction because the biggest impediment on housing - I think it's the lack of desire for us in our own backyards to see more housing constructed in so many ways. We're our own worst enemy in terms of the opposition locally to so much of the new housing. And-- so we want to drive an appropriate response to that by supporting the cities and counties in those efforts. So we don't see so many projects killed, no housing produced and cost of living continuing to rise.  

Lee: Why did you decide to come to San Diego specifically to talk about trying to make a dent in the homeless crisis? 

NewsomBecause we've got a great partner in Todd Gloria, and it's not surprising he comes out with so much experience in the Legislature, so he knows how to ask the right questions and he demands more from the Governor and legislative leaders, and he's getting more than ever. And we're just here to support and we're here to highlight - this is a statewide problem. It’s not unique to San Diego. I was in the Central Valley yesterday in Lamont, California. I mean, every part of the state. And I have governors calls all the time -  they're starting to see big increases all across the country. 

Lee: Are you a supporter of mandatory rehabilitation programs?  

NewsomI support what works. I mean, coerced treatment. I've read a thousand studies on this. All right, I’ve read two or three studies on this, and the studies are not inconclusive. They overwhelmingly suggest when you coerce someone against their will to do something, the long-term benefits of that are pretty, pretty small. So I want to be pragmatic - a lot of tools in the toolkit. We have more treatment programs. We're going to have more conservatorship focus, literally one of the biggest impediments we have right now is people that are incompetent to stand trial because they have decompensated-- They're in and out of the criminal justice system, they have severe drug addictions and they can't help themselves. And yet our rules are such that we have to step back, and maybe that's the most-- well, that's the least compassionate thing we can do, because then those people deteriorate, many are dying on the streets, so we have to redefine compassion. And that's why we're going to redefine our conservatorship laws in the state. 

Lee: I know hotels are a big part of the program to get people off the streets. How are you working to make sure that things are managed properly? 

NewsomIn just 12 months, we got 58,000 people off the streets because of our expansion of this hotel program. It's remarkable in just a year - 58,000 people. 

Lee: Do you know how many of those were in San Diego?

NewsomThe mayor will be previewing that tonight and I don't want to share. I mean, not only were those short-term under Roomkey, but 6,000+ units have been drawn down permanent under something called Home Key. And every week now, we're putting out more grants for more Home Key acquisitions. We want to take those 6,000 - we want to quadruple that specifically for Home Key. And our new budget is for 55,000 new units, including the largest expansion of mental health housing in our state's history.  

Lee: What do you say to people who are moving out of California saying too much money is being spent on things like your plan for Universal Health care? 

NewsomWell, I mean, we're running unprecedented record budget surpluses, unprecedented job growth. Five years, we had the fastest growing economy of all Western democracies - of all Western democracies; 21 percent GDP growth in the last five years, outperforming the U.K., Germany, France, outperforming the United States. More entrepreneurs, more scientists, engineers, researchers – San Diegans understand this - than any other part of the globe. More opportunities here than any other part of the globe. I say to them, ‘I’d think twice about leaving the Golden State where the dream is still alive and well, and we're doing things we've never done in the past, including creating record investments and addressing the most stubborn and vexing issues in the state affordability, housing and homelessness.’ 

Lee: And do you believe we'll be able to sustain the health insurance [for all]? [Some critics say this will trigger homeless people coming to California for the free resources.]

Newsom: Well, critics sit on the sidelines pointing fingers. We're actually doing the work. They're welcome to come out here, the critics, and do what we just did. As long as I'm here, you're going to see a lot more of this. We're just winding up. Boy, you ain't seen nothing yet. Unprecedented investment, multi-year. And I'll hold folks accountable. That's why I was out here cleaning things up myself.  


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