California governor forms group for homelessness solutions

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom called growing homelessness in California a national disgrace as he announced Tuesday that he is launching a task force to find solutions amid a housing crisis in the most populous state.

The Democratic governor said the state has lacked a strategy to curb homelessness but argued that answers will come from the local level. He said the group will work with cities and counties to develop regional plans for addressing the issue.

Newsom made the announcement in Oakland, where county officials said the number of homeless people rose 43 percent over the last two years. Recent data from other counties has shown large increases, too.

"These are jaw-dropping numbers," Newsom told reporters at the Henry Robinson Multi-Service Center, which provides transitional housing for people facing homelessness.

Newsom has proposed spending about $1 billion in the state budget on programs to tackle homelessness, including providing $650 million to local governments for emergency shelters and other services. He also wants to spend money on programs for homeless college students and legal protections for people facing evictions.

Meanwhile, major housing legislation has faltered in the Legislature in recent weeks.

A measure to expand rent control stalled, and the chairman of a key Senate committee held back a closely watched proposal that would have waived zoning rules in some neighborhoods to allow for more housing, such as around public transportation.

Supporters argue that such measures are key to preventing homelessness and creating more housing.

Newsom told reporters that he is talking with Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins and legislative leadership about the development measure. But he did not take a position on whether it should get a vote on the Senate floor.

During his campaign last year, Newsom proposed creating a cabinet-level secretary of homelessness, a post he has yet to fill.

Newsom tapped Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to chair the new Homeless and Supportive Housing Task Force. The governor's office said he will appoint other members later.

The group will meet around the state to see best practices and gather input to propose solutions, Newsom's office said. The task force will issue at least one report a year to the governor.

Republican Assemblyman Devon Mathis questioned the need for a new task force, arguing Newsom's administration is not doing enough to address the state's high cost of living.

"Every month, families sit around the kitchen table and have to figure out how to make ends meet. Are we bringing down their cost of electricity?" He said. "Are we bringing down their costs in rent?"

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