Gov. Gavin Newsom in San Diego
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks in San Diego on Tuesday. Image from livestream

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday proposed a $12 billion expansion of the Homekey project and related programs to house the Golden State’s homeless population.

At a press conference in San Diego, the Democratic governor said the investment would provide 65,000 people with housing placements, more than 300,000 people with housing stability and create 46,000 new housing units.

The plan is to build upon the success of Homekey, a program that provided safe shelter from COVID-19 to 36,000 Californians and created 6,000 affordable housing units in record time and at a fraction of the cost.

“Within a year, Homekey did more to address the homelessness and affordable housing crisis than anything that’s been done in decades and became a national model. Now is the time to double down on these successful efforts,” said Newsom.

Homekey is a grant program for public agencies to acquire hotels, motels, apartments, and other buildings to provide homes for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

The governor’s plan was unveiled at a former extended-stay motel, which is now operated as a home for families by Father Joe’s Villages.

Deacon Jim Vargas, president and CEO at Father Joe’s Villages, applauded the news, saying there has never been a more critical time to move people off the streets and into safe permanent housing.

“The inability to afford housing is one of the key drivers of homelessness and results in tens of thousands of our neighbors being forced to live on the streets to survive,” Vargas said in a statement. 

“We are grateful for the state’s efforts through Project HomeKey to provide a safe place for people who are most vulnerable and to address homelessness through new specific housing supports, wraparound supportive services and programs to help people before they fall into homelessness,” Vargas said. “This investment will help create a future where every San Diegan has access to affordable housing and puts us one step closer to ending the cycle of homelessness in the region.”

The governor also proposed an additional $1.5 billion investment to clean public spaces near highways and transform public spaces through arts and cultural projects. The initiative is expected to create an estimated 15,000 jobs, including for people experiencing or exiting homelessness, at-risk youth, veterans and formerly incarcerated individuals.

The homeless program was quickly criticized by two Republicans who are seeking to succeed Newsom in a recall election later this year.

“Homelessness has skyrocketed by 10,000 people since Gavin Newsom took office,” former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said. “No amount of money will solve this crisis without a leader who has the political will to buck the status quo and take bold actions to get people off the streets and indoors to receive the help they need.”

Faulconer touted his own record in San Diego, where homelessness declined during his tenure, and said he could do the same on a statewide basis.

John Cox, a Rancho Santa Fe businessman and Newsom’s Republican challenger in the 2018 gubernatorial race, called the program “too little, too late.”

“Gavin Newsom has had almost 20 years to address homelessness in California, first as mayor of San Francisco, then as lieutenant governor and as governor,” Cox said. “All we’ve seen is homelessness go higher and higher.”

Updated at 2:56 p.m. May 11, 2021

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.