In this polarized climate, there may be only one issue in the state that can bring together Republicans and Democrats.
That issue? Homelessness.
Gov. Gavin Newsom stood shoulder to shoulder with Kern County’s liberal and conservative politicians at an affordable housing complex in Bakersfield on Thursday to display a united front against the homeless crisis facing the state.
“What is it about this state that’s allowed this crisis to fester, to get worse and worse and worse, and grow as it has?,” he said during a press conference at the affordable housing complex, Park 20th Apartments. “I think that’s a question we’re all asking ourselves every single day, but that question now needs to be answered.”
The state hopes part of that answer will come from a $1 billion budget allocation that will be made available to local agencies combating homelessness. The governor also announced that the state had created a type of contest known as the 100 Day Challenge, in which local governments will receive state funds to develop unique solutions to the homeless crisis.
Mayor Karen Goh was on hand Thursday to formally accept the challenge, and the $3.3 million that comes along with it.
“Homelessness is a tragic reality that’s affecting our entire state. This universal problem goes beyond political boundaries, beyond jurisdictions,” she said. “And I am so grateful that the governor is here visiting and really is paying attention to what is unique in Bakersfield.”
Municipalities that come up with effective solutions to homelessness may be eligible to receive part of $35 million in reward funds from the state.
Goh said Thursday that the city and county had not yet come up with their strategy for the 100 Day Challenge, but would aim for the entire prize.
She may only have been half joking.
Also in attendance were State Senators Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, and Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, along with Assemblymen Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, and Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield.
“I do applaud the governor for coming down,” Grove said. “We have a lot of disagreements that we debate on policy issues, but one of the things that we can come together on is homeless issues.”
She went on to say that county leaders had been sharing innovative solutions to homelessness with the governor before he decided to come down and see it for himself.
As part of his visit, Newsom and Goh visited the apartment of Vietnam War veteran Robert Thomas, who was homeless for eight days before finding a bed at Park 20th.
Thomas, 68, said he was elated to have the governor in his apartment and said they laughed and cracked jokes in addition to discussing homeless issues.
“I just told him how I felt, that the homeless need help,” Thomas said.
He said he gave Newsom a medallion he received after returning from Washington D.C. on an honor flight, and asked the governor to look at it and remember Kern County when considering legislation on homelessness.
“Kern County needs help,” he said. “We’ve got not only homeless veterans, we’ve got too many regular people that are homeless. America wasn’t built on that.”
Kern County continues to battle a homeless epidemic. More people without shelter have been seen on city streets than ever before, according to local experts, who say more must be done.
But while Republicans and Democrats seem to be cooperating on finding solutions to homelessness, each side acknowledged the divisions they face when it comes to oil and agriculture. The state has instituted policies under Newsom that could lead to devastation to the two Kern County staples.
Newsom said he was aware of the difficulties faced by the county if the state’s plans go through, but he said he hoped to help local residents through what could be a difficult future.
After discussing the state’s plan to, among other things, close private prisons and decarbonize the economy, Newsom said Kern County would be disproportionately impacted.
“We have to recognize that,” he said. “So I am here, substantively, but also symbolically in that recognition, with a desire to address that in real time and not wait for those issues to fester and magnify, but to advance some solutions.”