The homeless crisis has reached a tipping point in California.
Our state is home to 12% of the nation’s population, but 24% of the nation’s homeless population and 47% of the nation’s unsheltered population, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The vast majority of homeless people live in California’s major coastal regions, like the Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego metro areas. The growing number of homeless camps — and the issues that come with them — has made the crisis an issue that impacts all residents. A 2018 United Nations report called the methods used to treat the homeless crisis in San Francisco a human rights violation.
And yet, residents continue to resist efforts to help homeless individuals, tying up proposed shelters and centers offering homeless services in lawsuits and generally giving them the full not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) treatment.
But NIMBYs may have met their match in a new law, passed unanimously, which takes effect immediately. AB 101 earmarks and moves around some funds to address homelessness, but the biggest change the new law makes is to jump over the many hurdles NIMBY advocates tend to set up to avoid having homeless services in their neighborhood.
Specifically, AB 101 makes low barrier navigation centers a “use by right.” In other words, residents have lost the ability to appeal decisions to build navigation centers.
Anti-NIMBY legislation strikes back
Opening more navigation centers has the potential to decrease the state’s huge unsheltered population. These centers are less restrictive than regular shelters. Lifting common restrictions like those preventing homeless individuals from bringing their pets or remaining with their spouse or partner makes people more likely to get off the street and into shelter.
Even more promising, on top of providing temporary shelter, the ultimate goal of navigation centers is to find permanent housing for homeless individuals using the center’s services. On-site case managers guide and connect people to needed services that will help them find an income, obtain public benefits, health services and permanent housing.
For concerned residents: AB 101 isn’t complete martial law.
State Senator Wiener claims the bill won’t overly infringe on residents. He says: “I think overwhelmingly cities are going to continue to work with the local community, they’re not just going to drop something out of the sky.”
It still leaves some rules in place regarding where a navigation center can be opened. For example, the new law specifies navigation centers may only be constructed in areas zoned for mixed use and nonresidential zones permitting multi-family uses. So, navigation centers won’t be popping up in residential neighborhoods. But NIMBYs also won’t be able to block or stall nearby navigation centers using common methods such as California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) appeals, as navigation centers are now CEQA exempt.
Whether the law is able to side-step the many obstacles that currently prevent homeless numbers from declining out of the current crisis level remains to be seen. But this step is one of many legislators have taken in recent years to reduce homelessness and increase the stock of low-income housing — both things that have the potential to improve the quality of life for all residents here in California.