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Gavin Newsom’s political legacy as governor is tied to homelessness

Gavin Newsom's legacy as California governor, and perhaps his future in politics, is inextricably linked to the problems plaguing the state's largest city.

Governor Newsom has made homelessness a top policy priority for his final three years as governor, but nowhere is the problem more acute than in Los Angeles.

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With the city's notorious Skid Row and other encampments highlighting the failures of liberal governance for Republican critics and Democrats weary of the lack of progress, Newsom is under pressure to slow the rise of California's homeless population.

Newsom controls a $297.7 billion state budget and funds allocated to statewide programs, but making a noticeable impact on homelessness could be harder in coming years as state revenues continue to fall short of expectations, forcing Newsom to rein in spending.

Los Angeles County accounts for about 25 percent of the state's population, so any cuts would have a disproportionate impact on the region.

California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at the podium

California Governor Gavin Newsom spoke in Fullerton on Oct. 27 at the dedication of the Hope Center, a unified command center for Orange County health care workers, police officers and others working to address homelessness.

(Irrfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

The governor chose Los Angeles General Medical Center as the site where he will sign a plan in October to reform the state's mental health and substance abuse treatment systems, two issues closely intertwined with homelessness.

The reforms, which also include a bond approved by voters on a statewide ballot in March, focus on expanding services for people with drug addiction, adding 10,000 treatment beds statewide and serving a growing number of residents each year.

His plan builds on a program he passed last year called “Care Court,” which aims to force drug-addicted and mentally ill unhoused Californians into court-ordered treatment and launched in Los Angeles County on December 1.

The governor chose Los Angeles General Medical Center as the site to sign a plan to reform the state's mental health and substance abuse treatment system.

Newsom, 56, said he feels a responsibility to address problems in Los Angeles as well as in San Francisco, where his political career began.

“100 percent,” Newsom said, “San Francisco has a special place in my heart, but so does Los Angeles.”

As governor, he has made a point of spending more time in the city than his predecessor, Jerry Brown.

He also said he overcame the North-South divide that divides California, and in fact has sided with the South in every Senate nomination, including Sens. Alex Padilla and LaFonza Butler, both of whom are based in Los Angeles.

However, baseball is an exception. In a way.

“But I'm still not as much of a Dodgers fan as I am a Giants fan,” Newsom said.

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