In California’s War With Trump, Homelessness May Be Urging a Truce
OAKLAND, Calif. — After months of acrimony between California and the Trump administration over the state’s homelessness crisis, Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Thursday that he would send an envoy to meet with administration officials and discuss ways to address the issue together.
Mr. Newsom spoke of the meeting in an interview after announcing at a news conference that the state was mobilizing 100 camping trailers to shelter some of the state’s more than 150,000 homeless people.
“We really have an open hand, not a clenched fist on this,” Mr. Newsom said in the interview, inside one of the trailers arrayed in a parking lot near Oakland International Airport. “I hope we can professionalize our relationship.”
The governor toured the state this week to discuss the homelessness crisis, saying California would respond as urgently as it would to a major earthquake.
“It’s the issue of our time,” Mr. Newsom said. “It has happened on our watch and we need to meet this moment.”
Nearly half of all unsheltered people in the United States live in California.
A joint effort could signal a profound shift in relations between the Trump administration and California, which have been locked for years in tense battles on everything from environmental regulations to immigration. Homelessness has become a particularly sore spot, with President Trump repeatedly criticizing California cities for their management of the issue.
In September, Mr. Trump ordered that San Francisco be cited for an environmental violation because of human waste on the city’s streets, a problem that administration officials linked to homelessness. “They have to clean it up,” Mr. Trump said. “We can’t have our cities going to hell.”
The administration also said in a report that the homelessness crisis had been aggravated by increasing the “tolerability of sleeping on the streets.”
Mr. Newsom, a former mayor of San Francisco who is no stranger to the issue, acknowledged that the number of unsheltered people “has gone through the roof” in California.
The state has identified more than 1,300 state-owned properties that could potentially be used to shelter homeless people, a list that includes state hospitals and buildings used by the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs, the governor said.
The nearly 80,000 homeless people in New York far outnumber those in, say, Los Angeles, with 56,000. But a crucial difference is that 72 percent of California’s homeless people are living on the streets, compared with just 4 percent in New York.
At a large homeless encampment less than three miles from where Mr. Newsom spoke, residents said they were not impressed with the government’s response.
“At least we could get a shower here,” said Monica Martinez, who has been homeless for five years and has trouble walking because of a hip problem. On Thursday she huddled under a quilt in a tent where the floor was soaked from a winter storm. “For us homeless women it’s very hard,” she said.
Mr. Newsom has announced plans in this year’s budget for $1.4 billion in homeless assistance and funding for mental health services, adding to the $1 billion approved last September, the majority of it emergency aid to cities and counties.
Some of the money is for new housing. Yet the costs of construction in California these days are so high that even large state programs are likely to have limited impact in the long term.
A single unit of affordable housing in Oakland costs about $600,000 to build. In San Francisco, where the median home price is $1.4 million, one unit can run above $800,000.
Homelessness has reached acute levels not only in the state’s largest cities but in smaller ones like Santa Cruz and Bakersfield, as well as numerous rural towns. Nearly 200 counties and cities in California have declared a shelter crisis since 2018.
Across the Bay Area, officials have set up special parking lots where homeless people can sleep in their cars or campers. The New York Times counted more than 100 homeless encampments in Oakland alone, including the one where Ms. Martinez sleeps.
In a report published this month, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development blamed California for an overall increase in homelessness nationwide. “While homelessness in most states declined between 2018 and 2019, homelessness in California increased by 16 percent, or 21,306 people,” the report said.
The surge in California offset a decrease across many other states, the report said.
Mr. Newsom said on Thursday that he had been encouraged by talks between Trump administration officials and Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, and that state officials had had two exchanges in which the administration had laid out “in prescriptive terms the support they could provide.”
Since being sworn in as governor a year ago, Mr. Newsom has struggled to set his own agenda on homelessness, as he confronts crises like the bankruptcy of the state’s largest utility, repeated power cuts that affect millions of residents, and wildfires that rage up and down the state.
Still, he said he understood how pressing the issue of homelessness was.
“None of us are naïve about the challenge in front of us,” he said. “And none of us are stepping aside and waiting for someone else to solve it.”
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