Creating a homelessness czar

A tent encampment in West Oakland. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
A tent encampment in West Oakland. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Matt Levin


AB 1845 would create a statewide Office to End Homelessness to centralize the state’s efforts to tackle one of its most vexing issues. Leading the new department would be the Secretary of Homelessness — AKA a “homelessness czar” — appointed by the governor. It would be the secretary’s job to try to streamline the more than 30 different state homelessness programs administered by 13 different state agencies, from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the Department of Social Services.


Local and statewide homelessness advocacy groups, major cities with large homeless populations like Oakland and Sacramento, and nonprofit housing developers.


The bill faced no organized opposition, although a handful of Republican lawmakers voted against the proposal as it made its way through the Legislature. Gov. Newsom may not be a fan — after endorsing the idea of a “homelessness czar” on the campaign trail, his administration has backed off the idea. Newsom declared himself the “homelessness czar” earlier this year.


On any given night, more than 150,000 Californians are homeless — a number that’s been trending in the wrong direction and will likely rise again this year. Before the pandemic struck, Newsom staked much of his governorship on making meaningful progress on homelessness, devoting his entire State of the State address in February to the issue. Voters are increasingly frustrated by a lack of visible results, especially after billions in state and local dollars have been spent on solutions.


In his veto message, Newsom wrote that while he sincerely appreciates the “intent of this bill, I do not support this particular vision of organizational restructuring at this time.” The veto marks a near complete reversal of his rather innocuous sounding campaign pledge. Newsom argued in his veto message that a multitude of senior administration officials negated the need for a centralized position.