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California Agencies Charged With Combating Homelessness Lack Oversight And Coordination: State Audit

The California State Capitol in Sacramento August 28, 2020.
Andrew Nixon / CapRadio
The California State Capitol in Sacramento August 28, 2020.

A lack of oversight and coordination among California agencies charged with addressing homelessness has hampered efforts to solve the growing crisis, according to a new state audit.

“At least nine state agencies administer and oversee 41 different programs that provide funding to mitigate homelessness, yet no single entity oversees the State’s efforts or is responsible for developing a statewide strategic plan,” State Auditor Elaine Howle wrote in a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders.

More than 151,000 Californians were homeless in 2019, an increase of 15% from 2017, according to the most recent federal surveys.

The audit pointed to a lack of progress made by the Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council, which was established in 2017 to coordinate funding, establish partnerships with stakeholders and develop strategies to confront homelessness.

The report found that the homeless council:

  • has yet to set priorities or a timeline for achieving its 18 statutory goals.
  • cannot coordinate existing state and federal funding because it lacks spending data from state agencies.
  • will lack information about some service providers in its planned statewide data system
  • is not required to develop guidance or share best practices to Continuums of Care and does not have a mechanism to enforce them.

A Continuum of Care, also known as CoC, is a group of organizations, such as homeless service providers, cities, counties, and other stakeholders, that receives federal money to carry out the goal of ending homelessness within a specified geographic area. Most housing, health and other services for homeless people are administered or overseen by local governments.
A spokesperson for the state agency that oversees the Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council said it largely agrees with the audit’s findings.

“We would like to see better coordination across all of our programs,” said Russ Heiberich, a spokesperson with the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency. “And we would like to see better coordination for homelessness efforts.”

Heiberich added that the homeless council is expected to at least partially satisfy some of the concerns raised by the audit in the coming months, but would need legislative action to provide the oversight suggested.

The audit also reviewed Continuums of Care serving the counties of Fresno, Madera, Mendocino, Riverside, Santa Barbara and Santa Clara. It found those organizations do not consistently use best practices to improve homelessness services in their areas.

Here’s what the audit found:

  • None fully understand the homelessness needs and available services in their areas due to insufficient annual needs assessments.
  • Some do not use a mobile application even though it can make counting homeless individuals more reliable and efficient.
  • Some need to better prioritize their most effective projects so that those can receive federal funding.

The counties of Mendocino, Riverside, Santa Barbara and Santa Clara generally agreed with the audit’s recommendations and pledged to take actions to implement them. The Fresno City Housing Authority disagreed with some of the recommendations, including the suggestion to conduct a comprehensive gaps analysis and to study whether to establish a dedicated telephone hotline.

During his campaign for governor, Newsom made confronting California’s homelessness crisis a top priority. He’s received praise for helping shelter more than 20,000 homeless residents last year through Project RoomKey, which provided motel rooms to the most vulnerable unhoused residents, including the oldest and sickest, as COVID-19 spread across the state.

But even with the early success, advocates say the governor must act with greater urgency to solve the state’s crisis during the second half of his term.

Copyright 2021 CapRadio