A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, backed by officials from California’s largest cities, announced Wednesday that they have introduced a package of 25 bills aimed at providing housing and other services to the homeless.
The bills would expand the number of temporary shelters, create special health and education programs for children from homeless families and offer financial incentives to real estate investors to provide low-cost housing.
“The homeless problem today is the most visible and troubling evidence of this state’s affordable housing crisis,” said Sen. Leroy Greene (D-Carmichael), chairman of the Senate Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.
Greene’s staff estimates that there are 100,000 to 250,000 homeless people in California, although aides admitted that those figures represent general estimates since they are talking about a group of people who by definition do not have permanent residences and thus are almost impossible to count precisely.
Basically, the bills are intended to provide immediate relief to the homeless, rather than a permanent solution to the housing crisis.
Greene was unable to estimate how much the bills would cost or how much housing they would provide if all were enacted. With tax dollars tight and legislators facing numerous cuts in existing programs in Gov. George Deukmejian’s new budget proposals, lawmakers conceded that they will have an uphill fight winning approval for the costly new housing programs.
Nevertheless, the package of bills was immediately endorsed by a coalition of officials from California’s largest cities. Iola Williams, a member of the San Jose City Council and spokeswoman for the group, which included Los Angeles City Councilmen Robert Farrell and Hal Bernson, complained that housing “is no longer affordable” to many people living in big cities.
Assemblyman Dan Hauser (D-Arcata), chairman of the Assembly’s Housing Committee, said lawmakers drafted 25 separate bills because “no single bill will solve the problems facing thousands of homeless people. Instead, each measure targets a particular aspect of the problem.”
Among the bills is a measure by Greene that would allow people to be sheltered in temporary facilities for up to 120 days, twice the length of time now allowed.
Another bill, by Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim), would allow low-income tenants to assume ownership of their units through subsidies allowed by private investors, who in turn would be given tax incentives by the state.
Seymour’s bill basically would keep in place a federal subsidized-housing program that is being phased out.
Lawmakers complained that much of the problem was created by a 78% reduction since 1981 in federal financial aid for low-cost housing.
Still another bill, drafted by Assemblyman Tom Bates (D-Oakland), would require local school districts to have a coordinator of services for children from homeless families. Bates said most children from homeless families fail to attend school.
The Bates bill would require each district to work with local housing shelters to ensure that children receive transit passes when needed, free lunches and help in overcoming barriers such as local requirements that students have a permanent address, proper identification, immunization papers and previous school records.