Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Faulconer wants to create more homeless shelters in California as part of his effort to get people off the streets, declaring homelessness in the state an emergency that must be treated like one.
Faulconer, the former two-term San Diego mayor, released a statewide plan Tuesday modeled off his efforts while leading the nation's eighth-most populous city. Expanding shelters would make it easier for law enforcement to clear encampments and to cite or arrest people who don't leave.
Faulconer said under such a plan he hopes to see “double-digit decreases” in homelessness each year.
“I just firmly believe that every human being has a right to shelter, and I also believe that when we provide that shelter you have an obligation to use it," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
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Faulconer announced his plan at stops in Los Angeles and Sacramento, where he joined two lawmakers under a freeway overpass near a pile of trash including food wrappers, clothing and blankets. Tents were set up nearby.
“We care about people. We care about them so much that we don't want to let them die in tent encampments in California," Faulconer said.
It follows fellow Republican candidate John Cox's release of a plan Monday that would compel people into mental health and substance abuse treatment. California is home to more than a quarter of the nation's homeless people, according to federal data.
Faulconer and Cox are among Republicans running in the recall against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Faulconer, who served as mayor from 2014 to 2020, said his record in San Diego shows success tackling homelessness. The San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless' 2020 point-in-time count shows the city's homeless population went down by about 4% from the count the year before.
Some experts, though, say building more shelters without more permanent housing is an ineffective and expensive way to approach the problem. It may get people off the streets, but it won't necessarily put them in a home.
“We could spend an inordinate amount of money on sheltering people, and while it might make conditions better for people who are housed and don’t want to look at the suffering of people, all you’re doing is putting the suffering out of sight,” said Margot Kushel, director of the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative at the University of California, San Francisco.
She points to models that show effective policies produce two to three units of housing for every unit of shelter produced.
Faulconer's plan doesn't touch on building more housing, but he said he'd release a housing plan soon. He said shelters are necessary because the state is in the midst of an emergency that needs quick action.
Faulconer's plan centers in part around a federal court order that says cities can't criminalize people for sleeping on the street if adequate shelter isn't available. He wants to put that ruling into state law, along with a measure that gives the state power to require people to vacate public spaces if they refuse shelter. He called for extra state funding to help local governments build shelters and to put some on state-owned land. There's no price tag attached.
He'd bypass the Democratically controlled state Legislature with an executive order to create a “network of state-led shelters" by working with local governments and nonprofits. He wants to create a new California Highway Patrol unit to work on homelessness and encourage people to get shelters.
Encampments could be cleared and people arrested after warnings if they refuse shelter. Former San Diego police chief Shelly Zimmerman, who joined Faulconer, spoke about the creation of a new city police division aimed at helping the homeless. The goal, she said, was to get people the help they needed and to intervene when people don't want to accept it.
Faulconer's plan also centers on keeping freeways, underpasses and public spaces like riverbanks clean. Newsom has set aside money in the state budget for picking up trash and cleaning public spaces.
But the plan offers limited details on what happens to people once they're in the shelters, and only lays out a plan to help veterans access permanent housing. Faulconer said all shelters would be required to offer services for mental health and drug addiction.
Converting hotel and motel rooms into housing is the key component of Newsom's response to homelessness. Faulconer supported such programs as San Diego mayor and said there's “absolutely" a place for it in the state's approach.