S.F. homeless housing nonprofit blasted for misusing taxpayer funds

One of San Francisco’s largest providers of housing for formerly homeless people “misused” taxpayer funds, lacked key financial controls and engaged in other problematic practices that “heightened the risk of fraud,” according to a city report released Tuesday.

“(T)he breadth and magnitude of financial and compliance problems we found at HomeRise is concerning,” wrote Sjoberg Evashenk Consulting Inc., an independent firm the city hired to audit the nonprofit.

Janéa Jackson, CEO of HomeRise, said Tuesday afternoon that the nonprofit’s leadership is “100% committed” to resolving the issues noted in the audit. Jackson, who took over as head of the nonprofit in June 2023, said she has already addressed several of the concerns. 

San Francisco nonprofits receive hundreds of millions of dollars to provide services to the city’s most vulnerable residents — whether unhoused or struggling with mental illness or substance abuse. But nonprofits have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years as local organizations have been accused of financial mismanagement, or worse. 

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HomeRise was the subject of controversy last week after one of the nonprofit’s complexes in Mission Bay was criticized during a hearing at City Hall where residents complained it was contributing to violent and disturbing incidents in the neighborhood, a characterization the city rejected.

The revelations in the report on HomeRise follow a slew of scandals at nonprofits that contract with San Francisco over the past three years. The executive director of a Bayview food bank was accused of using city funds to enrich herself. Other nonprofits were accused of labor violations and overspending their budget. And a public-safety-focused nonprofit fired its executive director after finding it spent nearly $80,000 in grant money on ineligible expenses, including a Lake Tahoe trip, luxury gift boxes and limo service.  

HomeRise operates more than 1,500 units at 19 properties across the city, with an annual budget of about $34 million and some 250 employees. The city’s current agreements with HomeRise total more than $240 million in loans, grants and subsidies. That includes $110 million in loans to develop or rehabilitate properties, $90 million for operations and maintenance, and more than $40 million in grants for support services.

Auditors found “unallowable, imprudent, or questionable spending” by HomeRise that was inconsistent with the terms of its agreement, such as using city dollars for fundraising, paying staff bonuses, and providing lunches and gifts to its staff.  

As of January 2023, the nonprofit had 118 active credit cards in use — equivalent to roughly half of its workforce — of which more than a third had credit limits of $10,000 or higher, according to the audit. HomeRise did not have sufficient controls on the credit cards to prevent risk of fraudulent expenses, waste or other abuse going undetected, the report found. 

Jackson said Tuesday that the organization has recently reduced its number of corporate credit cards to about 30 and that most now have a limit of $2,500.

The audit also uncovered that the nonprofit gave out “signing” bonuses to employees who had been working for HomeRise for two to 13 years. Through job promotions, one HomeRise official’s salary allegedly increased more than $87,000, or 74%, in the span of just nine months. More than $200,000 in bonuses were “unplanned and unbudgeted,” worsening cash flow problems, the report stated.

The large raises and bonuses were handed out despite the nonprofit reportedly losing millions of dollars a year due to high vacancy rates in its buildings. In July 2023, more than 14% of units across the nonprofit’s properties were empty, the report found. Two of the nonprofit’s oldest buildings, the San Cristina at 1000 Market St. and the Senator Hotel at 519 Ellis St., had vacancy rates of 34.5% and 29.2% respectively.

The audit stated that the vacancies not only reduce the nonprofit’s potential rental revenue, but, “More importantly, vacant units represent missed opportunities to provide unhoused people with permanent, supportive housing.”

At the same time, the nonprofit had questionable costs including more than $100,000 in temporary rental charges, $96,000 for salaries paid to tenant program services staff and $12,500 for a social event.

The report criticized the lack of leadership and accountability at the organization, which was partly due to an “alarming rate of turnover” in key corporate positions, the document noted. 

The controller’s office could not determine the total magnitude of HomeRise’s inappropriate spending or unallowable charges because, in most cases, there was no supporting documentation.

After trying and failing to work with HomeRise to address growing concerns, the homelessness department and the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, or MOHCD, requested the audit in 2022. 

Formerly known as Community Housing Partnership, HomeRise was founded in 1990 as a partnership between the Coalition on Homelessness and a group of nonprofit housing developers called the Council of Community Housing Organizations. To this day, the coalition and council each get to appoint four members to the organization’s board of directors. 

Six months after a city department issued a notice of default at one of HomeRise’s properties, the city controller placed HomeRise on “elevated concern status” due to its financial instability. 

HomeRise remains on that elevated concern status. 

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

L.A. homeless deaths largely tied to fentanyl and other drugs

Nearly 900 unhoused people died in 2023, according to a preliminary report.

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

Data released Thursday by City Controller Kenneth Mejia show at least 898 homeless people died last year on streets, in shelters, on freeways and elsewhere.

Mejia’s report, which analyzed Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner preliminary data, did not break down the number of deaths linked to drugs because toxicology reports may be pending in some cases.

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A Times analysis of the data found that about 65%, or 545, of last year’s deaths reported so far were linked to drugs, including fentanyl and methamphetamine — an indication of the deadly toll of the drug crisis on the streets of L.A. The number could increase as more toxicology reports come in.

Los Angeles is home to about 46,260 unhoused people — an 80% increase since 2015, according to figures released last year by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

In recent years, the city has spent billions of dollars to address homelessness and build more housing. The fentanyl and meth crisis has prompted city officials to fund treatment beds for homeless people suffering from addiction — a service that has typically been paid for by county government, not City Hall.

According to Mejia’s report, 75% of the homeless deaths reported so far last year were accidental — a category that includes drug-related deaths.

About 18% were due to natural causes, 4% were homicides and 2% suicides, the report said. In 1% of the deaths, the cause was undetermined.

At least 73% of the deaths occurred in streets or places such as tents, RVs and parking lots.

According to the report, 31% of the homeless people who died in 2023 were Black. Black people are 8% of the city’s population but 33% of the unhoused population.

The report found that the parts of the city with the highest numbers of homeless deaths were Council District 14, which includes Skid Row and Council District 1, which includes MacArthur Park near downtown.

Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, who represents District 1, said the majority of homeless deaths in her district last year were due to opioids. She said she wants to bring more services to MacArthur Park, where many of those deaths occurred.

“We cannot look away from this crisis — the consequences of simply shuffling people from one neighborhood to the next and prioritizing criminalization over the delivery of services are at best ineffective, and at worst, deadly,” said Hernandez.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Embattled LA developer accuses its financial chief of looting millions intended for homeless housing

Embattled Los Angeles developer Shangri-La Industries, which has left a trail of unpaid debts, unfinished projects and foreclosure threats since it took $114 million from the state to convert motels into housing for the homeless, is now accusing its former chief financial officer of embezzling millions of dollars to fund an extravagant lifestyle.

Shangri-La, which is being sued by state housing authorities for breaching the terms of its agreement under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature Project Homekey program, alleges in a lawsuit that former CFO Cody Holmes, 29, engaged in bank fraud and check kiting in 2022 and 2023 with Shangri-La’s lenders, banks and brokers.

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The suit, filed last month in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeks more than $40 million in damages and other costs.

Holmes, according to the lawsuit, allegedly transferred vast sums of company cash and property to bank accounts and shell companies he set up and controlled and to his suspected ex-girlfriend, Madeline Witt, 28, who is a defendant in the lawsuit.

He used the money to host extravagant parties, cover $46,000 a month in rent at a leased home in Beverly Hills, travel regularly on private jets, lease exotic cars — including a 2021 Bentley Bentayga and a Ferrari Portofino — and even $12,000 to cover a student loan payment, the lawsuit alleges.

Additionally, Holmes purchased high-dollar luxury items for himself and Witt, including two Birken handbags valued at nearly $128,000, Chanel and Louis Vuitton handbags valued at more than $14,000, a $127,000 Riviera diamond necklace, a $35,000 Audemars Piguet diamond watch, and 20 VIP passes for the 2023 Coachella Music and Arts Festival valued at more than $53,000, according to the suit.

Holmes and Witt did not respond to multiple emails, telephone calls and text messages requesting comment.

Legal maneuvering

Attorneys representing Shangri-La, its affiliate businesses and Chief Executive Officer Andrew Meyers Abdul Wahab, who professionally uses the surname “Meyers,” filed the suit seeking a temporary restraining order that would prevent Holmes from withdrawing money from nine bank accounts he controls.

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Shangri-La fired Holmes in January following an internal investigation, according to court records.

“For the past two years, defendant Cody Holmes has looted Shangri-La and its subsidiaries of public funds earmarked for Shangri-La’s affordable housing projects,” attorney Brian A. Sun said in the motion filed March 6. “A (temporary restraining order) will prevent the public funds embezzled by Holmes from being hidden, withdrawn, or used to purchase extravagant expenses.”

Sun, according to his motion, said Holmes continued to make extravagant purchases after he was fired from Shangri-La, including leasing a 2024 Porsche Taycar and renting another luxury home in the Hollywood Hills.

A judge denied Sun’s request on March 7, but the lawyer said he plans to push the issue by refiling another motion.

In a telephone interview, Sun said Holmes is “dissipating assets as we speak. He’s selling off assets.”

Homekey program

Since 2020, the state Department of Housing and Community Development has provided Shangri-La Industries more than $114 million in Homekey funds to convert motels up and down the state into permanent supportive housing for the homeless.

Shangri-La has partnered with the Santa Monica-based nonprofit Step Up on Second, which provides support services to the homeless, in its efforts to purchase and upgrade motel properties and set up housing operations for the homeless.

Problems began surfacing when lenders and general contractors and subcontractors stopped being paid. Dozens of mechanic’s liens totaling millions of dollars have been filed over the past year at county recorder offices where the Homekey projects were located.

At the San Bernardino County Recorder’s Office alone, more than $2 million in liens were filed from March 7 to May 3, 2023, by contractors and suppliers not paid for work completed at the former Good Nite Inn in Redlands, now called Step Up in Redlands, and the former All Star Lodge in San Bernardino, now Step Up in San Bernardino.

Step Up in Redlands, which opened in January 2023, and Step Up in San Bernardino, which opened in March 2023, are the only two of Shangri-La’s seven Homekey-funded projects that were completed and are now operating.

Another of the developer’s Homekey projects, at the former Salinas Inn, has 44 units and is about 95% complete, Sun said.

State action

In January, the state Department of Housing and Community Development sued Shangri-La Industries and its partners in the Homekey projects, including the county of San Bernardino, the city of Redlands and Step Up on Second.

The state alleged Shangri-La and its co-defendants breached their obligations, granting and recording deeds of trust to secure loans from the third-party lenders without first obtaining the state’s written authorization, as required under the Homekey agreements.

Newsom launched Project Homekey in June 2020 to protect unhoused individuals from the threat of the coronavirus pandemic. The state has allocated more than $3 billion to cities and counties to purchase motels, hotels, vacant apartment buildings and other properties to provide permanent housing for the homeless.

The state alleges in its lawsuit that for each of its Homekey-funded projects, Shangri-La used the address of each motel to create undercapitalized shell companies to engage in misconduct. All the hotel properties face possible foreclosure, according to the lawsuit, which is set for a status conference on April 17.

Officials at the Department of Housing and Community Development did not respond to requests for comment. It could not be determined whether the state is conducting a criminal investigation.

Career trajectory

Holmes, according to the lawsuit, began working at Shangri-La as in intern in 2014 while still an undergraduate at USC. He earned his master’s degree in finance while working at the company as its director of finance.

When the company’s chief financial officer left in 2019, Meyers made Holmes its new CFO, according to the lawsuit.

“Meyers promoted Holmes to CFO because Meyers believed Holmes to be an intelligent problem solver and resourceful employee. Most importantly, Meyers trusted Holmes,” according to the lawsuit. “Holmes exploited that trust and intentionally deceived plaintiffs in order to enrich himself and his then girlfriend, defendant Witt.”

Alleged fraud

On March 22, 2023, the lawsuit alleges, Holmes recorded a fraudulent deed of trust on one of Shangri-La’s Homekey properties, the Salinas Inn at 1030 Fairview Ave. He falsely represented that the property owed money to one of Holmes’ alleged shell companies, Millenium Partners Inc., which was doing business as 310 REIT, according to the lawsuit.

In June 2023, Meyers and Shangri-La’s affiliates received notice from a lender that one of its Los Angeles properties, a vacant lot at 1228 Normandie Ave., was in default, even though Shangri-La and its affiliates paid cash for the property in September 2021 and it was completely debt free.

The lawsuit alleges Holmes, “without plaintiff’s knowledge or authorization, encumbered the property with loans and then allowed the loans to default.”

Holmes also used other people’s identifying information, including that of Meyers, to misappropriate funds from Shangri-La and its affiliated businesses, the suit alleges.

In April 2022, according to the lawsuit, Holmes forged Meyers’ signature on a lease for a 2021 Bentley Bentayga and created a fake email account to communicate with the lender. Two months later, Holmes allegedly forged Meyers’ signature again, this time on a lease agreement for the $46,000-a-month rental house in Beverly Hills.

Additionally, the lawsuit accuses Holmes of engaging in check kiting by drafting checks drawn on his alleged shell companies’ bank accounts and depositing them into the bank accounts of Shangri-La and/or those of its affiliates, knowing there were insufficient funds to cover the checks.

14 lawsuits over unpaid debts

Holmes’ conduct, the lawsuit alleges, is responsible for at least 14 lawsuits filed by lenders and general contractors up and down the state involved in Shangri-La-affiliated motel conversion projects who claim they were never paid. Half of the lawsuits were filed in San Bernardino County and involve the San Bernardino and Redlands projects.

The other Homekey projects include three in Salinas, one in Thousands Oaks and another in King City.

“Many of the projects remain incomplete due to the fiscal malfeasance and mismanagement of defendant Holmes,” according to the lawsuit.

Click here to raed the full article in the OC Register

Los Angeles City Council Considers Creating Department Of Homelessness

Proposed department would help corral city’s homelessness programs, initiatives

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

At a Los Angeles City Council meeting on Monday, City Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez pushed for the creation of a Department of Homelessness to help streamline the city’s current patchwork of homeless programs and groups under the direction of one department.

The L.A. area has seen a continued rise of homeless people since the 2010s, with the only years showing little to no growth in that timespan the skipped-over 2021 count because of COVID-19 and the 2022 recovery year count. However, the 2023 count saw a massive jump of homeless people, going up by 10% within the city, and 9% around the county. The 2023 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count study specifically found that there were an estimated 75,518 homeless people in Los Angeles County, up from 69,144 last year, with a total of 46,260 in the city, up from roughly 42,000 in 2022. The 2024 count, due later this year, is expected to have an even higher count.

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At the same time, Mayor Karen Bass’ signature Inside Safe project, designed to house more of the city’s homeless in motels, hotels, and other places, has been seen largely as a failure. Many hotel and motel owners have also complained about the program, leading to a strong backlash against it.

However, programs like Inside Safe, as well as others, are pieced together from different departments and other areas across the LA government, based on what that specific program wants to do. Seeking to consolidate homeless efforts in the city, Councilwoman Rodriguez proposed anew Department of Homelessness on Monday.

“A Department of Homelessness can help verify what each level of government is doing to solve the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time; I cannot say with certainty that we have an efficient and effective operation free of redundancies,” said Rodriguez. “With a mutual goal of creating a responsive system, we must also be prudent and judicious with resources to assure we can accelerate our impact and aid more individuals, because urgency can and should also be efficient and the Department of Homelessness may be a key part to delivering these goals.

“The City Administrative Officer, the Housing Department and the mayor’s office each dedicate significant staff time and resources to managing “overlapping homelessness interventions. Within this system, determined efforts to evaluate city-funded homelessness programs often run aground, as the providers of services produce irregular and imprecise reporting on contractually obligated metrics and outcomes.”

Department of Homelessness Proposal

While homeless program consolidation is part of the proposed Department, she also noted that the department would help better spend where the city’s $1.3 billion in homeless funds would go. However, many homelessness experts told the Globe that other methods at a city-wide level would be better at serving homeless people.

Click here to read the full the full article in California Globe

CalOptima’s street medicine program expanding to two more OC cities

Program brings medical care workers directly to folks experiencing homelessness

Following the success its leaders have seen with the organization’s street medicine effort in Garden Grove, CalOptima Health is taking its “doctor’s office on wheels” program next to visit homeless communities in Anaheim and Costa Mesa.

The street medicine program delivers primary health care, as well as behavioral health services and case management help, to unhoused individuals living in parks, under freeways and elsewhere on the streets.

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When the program launched in Garden Grove in April, CalOptima gave Healthcare in Action – an organization that’s part of the SCAN Group and provides health care and other services to homeless individuals – the goal of signing up 200 patients in 18 months. Ten months later, the team has already reached 138 members receiving services.

The medical team – consisting of a physician assistant, registered nurse, a mental health specialist and peer navigators who have experience with homelessness themselves – travels the community in a van equipped with most things a traditional medical office would have and visits people who are homeless where they are at.

CalOptima is investing $5 million for a two-year expansion of the program into Anaheim and Costa Mesa. Visits there are expected to launch in August.

CalOptima is the provider of publicly funded health coverage in Orange County and, with support from the state, is investing more into addressing housing and homeless needs with its healthcare support services.  

Kelly Bruno-Nelson, executive director of Medi-Cal/CalAIM at CalOptima, said piloting the program in one city was essential to making sure it was designed correctly.

“It’s a new model and it’s a new way of providing street medicine. We wanted to make sure it works,” Bruno-Nelson said. “We had some concepts and some ideas. We had some evidence-based practices at the foundation, harm reduction and trauma-informed care, all those things. But we wanted the time to design it, make sure it works before we really expanded into other cities.”

Bruno-Nelson said for her, the “ultimate success” of the program is that it can lead folks to housing.

“Just last week we were able to connect four of the members in Garden Grove to housing vouchers. So, four people that were living in encampments in Garden Grove are now out looking for apartments,” she said, adding that the peer navigators on the outreach team who build trust and rapport with the unhoused community make it possible.

The next step is to select a provider for Costa Mesa and Anaheim. From there, a steering committee for each city made up of local leaders, public safety agencies and local community organizations will meet to flesh out the specifics of the program and tailor it to each community’s needs.

“The other thing we’ve added, that was something we didn’t think of before and we should have, is that we’re going to have an individual with lived experience on each of those steering committees,” Bruno-Nelson said. “The voice of the unhoused was missing in that planning. So now with these two cities, we’ll have somebody with lived expertise at the table from the beginning.”

Anaheim Mayor Ashleigh Aitken said the street medicine program could be one more tool for Anaheim to get folks off the streets.

“It’s really important for me to meet people where they are. Asking someone who is injured or is suffering to get to a bus and go to a brick-and-mortar location isn’t always feasible,” Aitken said. “We’re hoping to move even more people off the street and into shelters, where we can connect them with a variety of services, not just medical care and housing.”

Unhoused folks deserve access to healthcare and other resources, Costa Mesa Mayor John Stephens said.

“I’d love it in a world where we could eliminate homelessness and keep everybody safe and dry in the city of Costa Mesa. That would be everybody’s goal. But in the meantime, people have health care issues,” Stephens said. “What you see a lot is people who are on the street have such difficulty finding health care and such difficulty recuperating when they do get sick. So bringing resources to them where they can address those issues is a wonderful thing.”

Bruno-Nelson said both cities have an extensive network of community organizations and supportive services and Aitken said the street medicine program will complement those already existing services.

“Anaheim’s strength is that we’re proactive. We don’t believe in waiting until a situation becomes a large-scale problem. We really believe in being compassionate and responsive, but also we’re not afraid to be innovative,” Aitken said. “If we see a program and believe in a program that we think can move the needle and get us closer to having a zero sum of unhoused individuals in our city, we’re not afraid to try new things.”

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Walters: California spends billions on homelessness yet the crisis keeps getting worse

California not only has the nation’s largest number of homeless people, but one of its highest rates of homelessness vis-à-vis its overall population.

The last official count found more than 181,000 Californians without homes, nearly a third of the nation’s homeless population. When new data are released later this year, the number will probably approach 200,000.

The numbers have continued to grow despite many billions of dollars in federal, state and local funds having been spent – $20 or so billion by the state alone over the last five years. As the problem worsens, it consistently ranks as one of Californians’ most pressing public policy issues, polling has found.

How is it, one might ask, that so much money could be spent with so little, if any, progress?

One factor, certainly, is that the underlying causes of homelessness, such as sky-high housing costs, family breakups, mental illness and drug addiction have not abated.

Another, probably, is that here is no consensus on what programs would be most successful and officialdom has taken a scattergun approach, providing money to a bewildering array of often overlapping programs and services in hopes of finding approaches that work.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who pledged 20 years ago to end homelessness in San Francisco when serving as the city’s mayor, is touting a measure on the March 5 ballot that would authorize bonds to build facilities for treating the mentally ill and redirect some funds from a two-decade-old special mental health tax into new programs. He’s also won legislative approval of “CARE courts” that could compel some mentally ill Californians into receiving treatment.

The multiplicity of programs to deal with homelessness cries out for some kind of independent appraisal of what’s been spent and how effective the spending has been.

We may get such an overview soon because the Legislature has approved a request from Republicans for the state auditor to delve into what’s been spent.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

California Assemblymen Introduce a Legitimate Bill to Solve Homelessness

End ‘Liberal Olympics’: Pray that the State Capitol media gives it the attention it needs, and that all of California deserves

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Two California Assemblymen have introduced a bill to address life beyond homelessness.

Assemblymen Josh Hoover (R-Folsom) and Joe Patterson (R-Rocklin) announced Assembly Bill 2417 “to expand and improve California’s response to our state’s homelessness crisis. This legislation increases funding flexibility for treatment and service oriented programs by repealing the state’s existing one-size-fits-all ‘Housing First’ approach to homelessness.”

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What? This doesn’t sound interesting, controversial or sexy? Yawn.

That’s the problem with today’s Liberal Olympics. Only the craziest, most ridiculous bills seem to get any media attention. The actually necessary, corrective policy-fix bills are ignored by the mainstream media while the stupid, excessive, exaggerated bills make the media’s click-bait cut.

This bill is important… So what does the “Beyond Housing” bill do?

According to the bill’s authors:

It “eliminates the state’s one-size-fits-all approach to homelessness by allowing treatment as a potential option rather than the strict Housing First policy. This would allow state agencies and departments to distribute homeless funds to entities that require mental health and drug treatment for homeless individuals to remain in the program. Ultimately, this will reduce homelessness, crime, squalor, and pressure on local services, when billions in taxpayer money has already been squandered.”

This means that the failed “Housing First” policy this state has spent billions on is… well… a failure – except for the contractors refurbishing and building the “housing” for the homeless.

t is notable that several states with high housing costs have low homelessness – something which rankles “housing first” advocates who continue to insist the hundreds of thousands of drug addicts living on the streets, parks, beaches, rivers and golf courses in California would not be there if they could afford housing, even calling the drug-addicted homeless the “unhoused.”

The Globe has covered the homeless crisis extensively and note that focusing only on housing rather than what’s really at the root of homelessness – drug addiction and mental illness – is merely Democrats controlling the language rather than solving the homeless crisis.

As Assemblymen Hoover and Patterson explain in detail:

Click here to read that the full article in the California Globe

San Mateo makes it a crime for unhoused to refuse shelter beds

Officials in San Mateo County are adding an unusual tactic to their multi-pronged approach to tackling the homelessness crisis: making it a crime to refuse to accept available, temporary housing.

A homeless encampment can be seen in San Francisco, Monday, Dec. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

In a unanimous vote, county supervisors have moved forward with the measure — despite significant opposition from civil rights groups and some homeless advocates — which would allow authorities to issue a misdemeanor violation to anyone living in a homeless encampment who refuses to move into available, temporary housing after a health evaluation and at least two warnings.

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“One of the toughest challenges we face is addressing and assisting those in encampments who tend to decline services or refuse services,” Supervisor Dave Pine said at last week’s board meeting. “The hope is it will be a tool to help move individuals into shelter.”

Opponents worry it will criminalize homelessness.

But Pine, along with board President Warren Slocum, co-sponsor of the ordinance, said it is the latest in a host of comprehensive solutions — including a street medicine team and the conversion of hotels to temporary housing — aimed at reducing homelessness in San Mateo County.

“Forty homeless people die in San Mateo County every year. … That’s just not acceptable,” Slocum said. This proposal “isn’t about criminalizing people, it’s about helping those who really may not be able to help themselves. … We really do have the capacity to house people and get people the help they need.”

Officials said the county has up to 30 unused shelter beds available every night, though that falls short of the estimated 44 people living in homeless encampments across unincorporated San Mateo County. Many more encampments are in the county’s 20 cities, including Daly City and Redwood City, but this ordinance would apply only in unincorporated areas.

After San Mateo made investments to respond to the homelessness crisis in the last two years, the number of people on the streets significantly dipped, with more accessing shelter facilities, according to County Executive Officer Mike Callagy.

“We’re down now to the hard-to-reach population, the population that doesn’t want to come in,” he said.

Under the measure, someone in an encampment who refuses an offer for an available bed will have 72 hours to change their mind, receiving two written warnings. After that, authorities could issue a misdemeanor citation, which Callagy said would be handled through diversion programs, such as mental health court.

But no one would be cited if county officials don’t have a bed available, Callagy said. He emphasized that the goal is not to issue tickets or route people into the criminal justice system but to get services and housing to those in need.

“We believe that once offered those options, most people will avail themselves to the services,” Callagy said. He hopes the citations are rarely issued but are used as a deterrent.

“At the end of the day, it’s about saving lives,” said David Canepa, another county supervisor. “I don’t buy into the narrative that we should do nothing.”

County officials touting the proposal said it was based on a Houston ordinance, adopted in 2017, that made homeless encampments on public property illegal and tried to funnel people into temporary housing. While that program has been highlighted for its success at removing encampments and helping people get off the streets, the Houston Chronicle found that tickets and arrests for violating the provision — given only after a warning and an offer of housing — continue to increase.

While many West Coast municipalities face legal roadblocks to clearing encampments, San Mateo County attorneys said the ordinance adheres to legal precedent that protects the right to sleep outside when no alternative housing is available.

In Los Angeles, city officials have been making efforts to address growing encampments by encouraging people to accept temporary shelter and enforcing laws that forbid blocking sidewalks or other specific places.

In San Mateo County, the ordinance has drawn critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, religious leaders and the San Mateo County Private Defender Program, which represents indigent defendants. Critics say they worry about the unintended consequences of such a law.

“Policing is no way to get people into treatment,” said William Freeman, senior council of ACLU of Northern California, decrying the “seriously flawed ordinance.”

While he praised the county for its recent work on homelessness, he said that “anti-camping ordinances invite over-policing and abuse.”

Lauren P. McCombs, an Episcopal deacon and a leader for Faith in Action Bay Area, called the criminalization of homelessness “inhumane treatment of our unhoused neighbors.”

“Our county needs to solve this crisis by ensuring safe and affordable housing options that are available to all residents, with strong incentives and not threats of incarceration,” she said.

County officials took into account some concerns from the public, amending the ordinance to include a health evaluation before warnings are issued and a review process scheduled to launch after a few months.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Newsom administration makes progress on tiny home promise

Nearly a year ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom promised to deploy 1,200 tiny homes to help shelter the state’s growing population of homeless residents. Now, the state has chosen who will build those tiny homes and what they will look like — but there’s still no word on when people will be able to move in. 

The inside of an “emergency sleeping cabin” by the company Pallet Shelter on Jan. 9, 2024. The company recently won a contract by the state to address homelessness by providing temporary housing with the cabins. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

Newsom unveiled his plans in March to deliver the tiny homes to Los Angeles, San Diego County, San Jose and Sacramento. The state has selected six companies to manufacture the dwellings: 

  • Pallet: a Washington-based company that makes small, fiberglass cabins specifically designed as temporary shelter for homeless residents. Their dwellings have been used in several California cities, including Oakland, San Jose and Fresno.
  • Factory OS: A Vallejo-based company that makes modular units that can be stacked and turned into apartment buildings, or used alone as tiny homes. 
  • Boss: A Montebello-based tiny home company. 
  • Irontown Modular: A Utah-based modular construction company.
  • AMEG: An El Dorado Hills-based modular home builder.
  • Plugin House Company: An Austin, Texas-based modular home company.

The contracts, awarded at the end of October, do not specify how many tiny homes or which tiny home models the state will buy from each vendor, nor how much the state will spend. Even the vendors themselves don’t know many specifics. 

“It is not clear to us today which product is going to which city or when,” said Pallet CEO Amy King. “We are on standby and at the ready to serve if we get called upon.”

There are more than 181,000 unhoused residents living in California, according to the state’s most recent estimates. Of those, more than 123,000 people are living in encampments, vehicles, abandoned buildings or other places not meant for habitation. 

In recent years, leaders in cities throughout California have leaned heavily on tiny homes as a way to move people out of the state’s many homeless encampments. The small dwellings, which are less expensive and easier to build than traditional housing, are intended to be a temporary respite where unhoused people can live while they wait for a permanent home. 

Pallet’s standard 70-square-foot tiny home — a basic cabin with no plumbing — costs $18,900. A 120-square-foot unit with an en suite bathroom is significantly more expensive — $48,500. 

The state requires each tiny home be at least 70 square feet for a single person and 120 square feet for two people. They are not required to have en suite bathrooms.

Now that the contracts have been awarded, other cities not included in this state program can use their own funds to purchase the tiny homes without going through a lengthy process of seeking bids from multiple vendors.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

California homeless man found not guilty in attack with pipe on former San Francisco fire commissioner

Garret Doty’s public defender said he was acting in self-defense after Donald Carmignani sprayed him with bear spray

A homeless man who brutally attacked the former San Francisco fire commissioner was found not guilty on all charges Friday.

Garret Doty, the now 25-year-old homeless man who was accused of beating 54-year-old Donald Carmignani repeatedly over the head with a metal pipe on April 5, faced two counts of assault and one count of battery.

Deputy Public Defender Kleigh Hathaway argued that Doty acted out of “fear for his life and fought back to protect himself.”

In a press release, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office said that Carmignani’s attorneys previously shared only “select video footage” from the incident-leaving out how the altercation began.

Doty’s defense attorneys argued that Carmignani instigated the altercation and sprayed the homeless man with bear spray and threatened to stab and kill him if he did not move his belongings. 

Carmignani previously said that three homeless people had set up an encampment near his mother’s front door, and she was afraid to leave her house in Marina District.

The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office said that after Carmignani allegedly threatened Doty, he decided to arm himself with a metal rod he found in a garbage bin.

FORMER SAN FRANCISCO FIRE COMMISSIONER SLASHED AND BEATEN WITH PIPE DAYS AFTER BOB LEE STABBING

The public defender’s said that 15 minutes later, Carmignai, “stood against a building and baited Doty to come closer” before spraying him with bear spray and ensuring the violent altercation.

A previous video released by Carmignani show Doty marching towards him with the metal rod and repeatedly hitting him.

Following the violent attack, Carmignani had 51 stitches, a fractured skull and a broken jaw.

Deputy Public Defenders Kleigh Hathaway said that it was “clear to her” that Doty was acting in self-defense against Carmignani.

CALIFORNIA AG DECLINES CRIMINAL CHARGES FOR OFFIER IN FATAL 2020 SHOOTING OF SAN FRANCISCO MAN
“From the beginning, it was clear to me that Mr. Doty was acting in self-defense against Mr. Carmignani, who not only had the audacity to attack Mr. Doty with bear spray and then threatened to stab and kill Mr. Doty, but also presented himself as unwilling to back down from a fight that he had started,” said Hathaway. “Self-defense can be fierce because the brain goes into survival mode, and that fear response is sadly heightened for unhoused people, like Mr. Doty, who live in constant exposure.”

Click here to read the full article in FoxNews