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California governor seeks US$1.4b to tackle state's worsening homelessness

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Minimum-wage earners must work 80 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom flat in LA.

Los Angeles

CALIFORNIA governor Gavin Newsom is seeking US$1.4 billion from lawmakers to tackle the escalating homelessness crisis in his state, and plans to use the money to open shelters, pay rent and provide health care, his office said.

The Democratic governor, who formally submitted his proposal on Friday, this week also signed an executive order directing agencies to identify state-owned land that can be used as temporary shelters for the homeless.

"Homelessness is a national crisis, one that's spreading across the West Coast and cities across the country," he said in a statement. "The state of California is treating it as a real emergency because it is one."

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His executive order also calls for the supply of 100 camp trailers for temporary housing and to deliver health services, as well as the creation of a crisis-response team to address street homelessness.

His proposals come amid the escalating crisis in California, despite hundreds of millions of dollars having been pledged in recent years to address the problem.

According to a report published this week by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, nearly 568,000 people experienced homelessness on a single night last year across America, with more than a quarter of them - about 151,000 - living in California.

The report said homelessness in the western state increased by 21,306 or 16.4 per cent, between 2018 and last year - more than the total national increase of every other state combined.

A key reason for the mounting numbers is a severe shortage of affordable housing and the gentrification sweeping many California cities.

Experts say that a person now earning the minimum wage would need to work 80 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles. The cost in San Francisco is even higher.

Mr Newsom hopes his 2020-2021 budget proposal to tackle the problem will help stem the crisis in the country's most populous state, which boasts the fifth-largest economy in the world.

His office said that his plan calls for US$750 million that would be used to pay rent for homeless people and for the building of affordable housing.

An additional almost-US$700 million in state and federal matching funds would be allocated on preventive health care.

"Californians have lots of compassion for those among us who are living without shelter," Mr Newsom said.

"But we also know what compassion is not. Compassion isn't allowing a person suffering a severe psychotic break or from a lethal substance abuse addiction to literally drift towards death on our streets and sidewalks," he added.

California has received stinging criticism from US President Donald Trump over its inability to beat back the rising number of homeless residents; he suggested last year that federal intervention was needed. AFP