Calif. Governor Gavin Newsom roamed San Diego before daybreak Thursday, bumping fists and chatting with people living on the streets during the annual count of the city's homeless population.
Newsom joined volunteers as they approached homeless people in downtown San Diego to ask them a series of questions -- from where they slept the night before to what led to their current situation.
The survey is part of the nationwide point-in-time count conducted in late January each year. The count helps cities secure federal and state funding for resources for the homeless while allowing leaders to put a face to the homeless crisis.
“Children, women and seniors are out on the street and sidewalks in the wealthiest state in the wealthiest democracy is inexcusable and it breaks your heart," Newsom said. "It’s just another reason why we all have to, I think, do a lot more than we’ve done to meet this moment."
Newsom acknowledged that it is up to the state to provide assistance to local governments. He touted a "housing first" approach to dealing with the crisis, stating that rent and housing burdens are the number one problem behind homelessness.
“The dignity that comes with a key, a lock, a door, a house, that dignity is essential to address the other underlying issues,” Newsom said.
The governor is seeking $750 million to address affordable housing and the homelessness crisis, part of which would help pay rent for people facing homelessness.
He said Thursday about $42 million of those funds would be funneled into San Diego County over the coming weeks.
"It's real money being distributed in real-time with flexible capacity, meaning local decision making on what best can address the issue in your local community," Newsom said.
An executive order was signed to create a fund that could include not only state taxpayer money but donations from philanthropic organizations and the private sector. The money would go to providers to pay rent, pay for affordable housing units, or to aid board and care homes.
"Were not just throwing money at this problem," Newsom said. "We’re targeting strategies and solutions that work with real accountability, real oversight and a framework of regionalizing solutions."
The order also created a multi-agency "strike team" to help local governments address homelessness. The state will measure local governments' success in moving people off the streets as a requirement for receiving more state assistance.
California's homeless crisis has drawn criticism from President Donald Trump and others who argue that California isn't doing enough to ease the state's homelessness crisis.
Trump said in a tweet that if city and state leaders "acknowledge responsibility and politely" ask for help, then his administration "will very seriously consider getting involved."
Newsom said Thursday he wants to take the feud over the issue off Twitter and behind closed doors, where leaders can lay out a strategy that goes beyond temporary solutions.
The state penned a third letter to the administration this week asking the federal government to open up land to local governments for homeless sites.
Earlier this month, Newsom ordered his administration to locate state land that could be used in the same manner and he acknowledged that the state needs to do more to support local governments.
"We know this issue can be solved. We know it’s a stubborn issue. We recognize it’s a crisis in the state. We recognize our responsibility to meet this moment," Newsom said.
The count is conducted in cities across the county and country. The goal is to learn more about the overall homelessness epidemic and to identify what type of resources could best aid those living on the streets.
HUD calculates that California's homeless population increased 16% last year, to about 151,000 people, or more than a quarter of the national total.
This year, volunteers had new tools to help with the survey process, including a new app and more nuanced questions, Newsom said.
The results of this year's point-in-time count will not be known for several months. In 2019, the survey resulted in a count of at least 8,100 homeless people living on the streets or in shelters.
Of the homeless documented by the volunteers, 3,626 were not living in shelters. The current system of homeless housing helps to shelter 4,476, according to the report.