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    How the California Legislature addressed homelessness this year
    • October 22, 2023

    Although much of the work to address California’s homelessness crisis takes place at the local level, legislators in Sacramento sought to address the crisis this past year as well.

    According to local 2023 Point in Time Counts, homelessness grew 9% in 2022 in Los Angeles County, 12% in Riverside County, and 26% in San Bernardino County. Orange County counts its unhoused homeless residents every other year, but the number of homeless people in Orange County shelters rose 12% in 2023.

    This year, lawmakers in Sacramento introduced bills to make it easier to build shelters, study what’s killing homeless Californians and improve mental health services in the state.

    Gov. Gavin Newsom had until Oct. 14 to decide the fate of bills passed by the Legislature. Here’s how some of those targeting the homelessness crisis fared:

    Assembly Bill 42

    Status: Signed by Newsom on Oct. 10.

    About the bill: AB 42, sponsored by Assemblymember James Ramos, D-Highland, temporarily stops — until January 2027 — local governments from enforcing requirements to provide fire sprinklers in temporary sleeping cabins if other safety measures outlined in the bill are used.

    “Temporary sleeping cabins are a way to provide temporary shelter for our homeless, especially our homeless youth,” Ramos is quoted as saying in a news release issued by his office. “Yet the cost of adding plumbing necessary for sprinklers adds an expense that limits the number of units an agency or community group can provide. AB 42 allows us to create more temporary housing to serve our homeless in a safe manner.”

    Assembly Bill 271

    Status: Signed by Newsom on Sept. 1.

    About the bill: AB 271, sponsored by Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, allows — but doesn’t require — counties to create Homeless Death Review Committees to gather data about what’s killing homeless residents.

    “On a single night, there has been up to approximately 130,000 Californians experiencing homelessness throughout our state,” Quirk-Silva is quoted as saying in a news release issued by her office. “It is unconscionable that these individuals are dying 20 years younger from preventable causes compared to the general public.”

    Assembly Bill 349

    Status: Signed by Newsom on Oct. 8.

    About the bill: AB 349, sponsored by Ramos, allows local governments or nonprofits to rent disused property on the grounds of Patton State Hospital near Highland to provide homeless services.

    “I am gratified that the governor approved my bill which provides an opportunity to create a vitally needed new regional resource to address the needs of our homeless,” Ramos is quoted as saying in a news release issued by his office. “Addressing this need demands collaboration. No one level of government or organization can solve the issue alone.”

    Assembly Bill 531

    Status: Signed by Newsom on Oct. 12.

    About the bill: AB 531, the “Behavioral Health Infrastructure Bond Act of 2023,” sponsored by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, puts a ballot initiative on the March 5, 2024 primary ballot. Voters will be asked to approve a $6.38 billion general obligation bond, with the funds going to provide 11,540 new treatment beds and housing units for homeless Californians. It would also pay for more outpatient care, including mental health services for the homeless and counseling for young people. The bond also includes $1 billion set aside specifically for housing homeless veterans.

    “Getting veterans experiencing homelessness off the streets has long been a priority for California, but getting some of our most vulnerable veterans into needed treatment for behavioral health challenges will be transformative,” Irwin is quoted as saying in a news release issued by the governor’s office.

    Assembly Bill 785

    Status: Signed by Newsom on Oct. 10.

    About the bill: AB 785, sponsored by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, creates exemptions to the California Environmental Quality Act in Los Angeles and Los Angeles County to allow homeless services to be built more quickly.

    “We must reduce the number of people becoming homeless and connect people currently experiencing homelessness to essential services,” Santiago is quoted as saying in a news release issued by his office. “We need to remove all barriers and speed up all our efforts to put a roof over every head in Los Angeles.”

    Assembly Bill 1377

    Status: Signed by Newsom on Oct. 11.

    About the bill: AB 1377, sponsored by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, D-Encino, streamlines the process for getting homeless veterans into housing.

    “It’s unacceptable – and frankly infuriating – that we have homeless veterans sleeping on our streets while units built specifically for them remain empty,” Gabriel is quoted as saying in a news release issued by his office. “We owe it to these veterans – and to taxpayers and residents – to ensure that we are cutting down on red tape and moving our homeless veterans into housing as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

    Senate Bill 326

    Status: Signed by Newsom on Oct. 12.

    About the bill: SB 326, sponsored by state Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, updates 2004’s Mental Health Services Act (Proposition 63), should voters approve it in the March 5 primary. If approved, the bill would expand Prop. 63 to include treatment for substance use disorders, prioritize care for those suffering from the most serious mental illnesses and more.

    “The Mental Health Services Act has been a great success – but after nearly 20 years it’s time to update it in a manner that is consistent with reforms in health care coverage and our increased understanding of behavioral health,” Eggman is quoted as saying in a news release issued by the governor’s office. “The new Behavioral Health Services Act will drive resources to those with the greatest needs, including those with substance use disorders, and provide for real accountability with a focus on outcomes.”

    House Resolution 46

    Status: Adopted by the Assembly on Aug. 14.

    About the resolution: HR 46, sponsored by Assemblymember Christopher M. Ward, D-San Diego, recognized November 2023 as Homelessness Awareness Month.

    Senate Concurrent Resolution 84

    Status: Adopted by the Senate on Sept. 12.

    About the resolution: SCR 84, sponsored by state Sen. Marie Alvarado-Gil, D-Jackson, recognizes November 2023 as California Runaway and Homeless Youth Prevention Month.

    More on the California legislature and homelessness

    Why haven’t we solved homelessness in California?
    California could end homelessness by 2035 with $8.1B per year, report says
    How much did your member of Congress get done last term?
    Do homelessness prevention programs work? New study says yes

    ​ Orange County Register