California legislators request audit of billions in state homeless spending

California’s 2021 budget allocated $12 billion to alleviate homelessness over two years, but the state has spent $23 billion over the last five years.

Published: March 22, 2023 6:10pm

Updated: March 22, 2023 11:00pm

(The Center Square) -

“Our residents deserve to know how (homelessness) dollars are getting there and how they are being invested. What’s working and what’s not, and I think we need to know that as well. Adding transparency will help both the state and local jurisdictions work together to figure out how to best spend these dollars going forward,” Senator Dave Cortese told the Joint Legislative Committee.

In a bipartisan request, California’s Senators Dave Cortese (D - San Jose), Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (R - San Bernardino) and Roger Niello (R - Sacramento) and Assemblymembers Evan Low (D - Silicon Valley), and Josh Hoover (R - Sacramento) asked the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to authorize an audit of public funds intended for the relief of homelessness throughout the state.

“We would like to know how the state and cities use state, federal and local funds to address the homelessness crisis and how effective the investment of public funds has been to date,” the joint letter read.

Cortese presented his request at a regular session of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, on March 22, 2023. He stressed the urgency of the audit now, so that any necessary change of direction can be taken before “the funds are out the door.” Audit 2023-102 of State and Local Government Homeless Funding was approved unanimously in a 12-0 vote.

The audit was initiated last year by Sen. Cortese after seeing the urgency of the homeless crisis in San Jose following a visit to the Columbus Park encampment.

“We’ve all seen homeless encampments, but what I saw was far worse than a tent city, it was a public health disaster. Rodents were running around your feet, massive piles of trash, tons of broken RVs and abandoned cars, cars turned upside down with people living inside. These homeless encampments are not safe, they’re not humane, we all know that. They’re actually brutal,” Cantonese said in his presentation. “The people living in these awful conditions deserve better, and we can do better, really, as a matter of decency.”

The request for an audit asks the State Auditor to review San Jose and another municipality of the auditor’s choosing looking into the use of state and federal funding to identify a number of things: How many homeless received shelter and services?; Has the state’s investment been effective?; How much have the cities received in state and federal funding?; Have the cities identified potential sites for both permanent housing and temporary housing?; as well as a number of other things.

“Those dollars are going to cities for projects like Project Homekey, Project Roomkey - to battle homelessness but of course we’re getting from our constituents a lot of feedback that they’re not seeing it,” Cortese told Sacramento KCRA3 News. “I think the audit will shed some light on whether or not the investments we’re making are getting to where they need to go and if they’re not, it will allow us to make a course correction.”

California’s 2021 budget allocated $12 billion to alleviate homelessness over two years, but the state has spent $23 billion over the last five years, as was revealed at the audit request. San Jose, represented by Sen. Cortese, has seen a steady rise in its homeless population from 4,350 residents in 2019 to 7,000 in 2022, a fraction of the estimated 10,000 unhoused individuals.

Additionally, a recent study by United Way noted “the need for more effective solutions to address youth homelessness in this area, particularly for young people of color,” in the city of San Jose, when it was named as the city with the highest unhoused population of adults aged 18 to 24 years.

“We want to shelter the largest number of people possible, get them into permanent housing and wrap-around services…While our region is building permanent supportive housing as completely and competently as any community in the state, the reality may be several years before most of these housing units are ready, meanwhile we have too many people living out in the elements in conditions like we see right outside today, “ Cortese stated.

The audit will review if the City of San Jose, the third largest city of the state, has effectively used designated funding and federal stimulus money to impact homelessness through Project Roomkey and Project Homekey, and address public safety and health issues, such as rodent infestations and the accumulation of trash, at local encampments.

“I think homelessness is the most important, urgent issue facing the state of California,” Senator Roger Niello told KCRA3. “The most important of which is how many people have ended up in permanent housing. We need to know what the money has accomplished.”

In his closing remarks of the presentation Contese stressed, “We need transparency. We need to know which strategies have worked best. We need to know how we can improve our future efforts. I think we need this action now. In light of these conditions, and the effective and efficient use of external funds to address homelessness is of critical importance. We respectfully request your support to examine and review the state’s and two municipalities' use of public dollars for homelessness. One being my own city, the city of San Jose.”

He reminded the committee before the vote, the reason for the request, “To try to do better. That’s what this audit is about.”

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