Bo Tefu | California Black Media

Rookie Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris, who was born in Martinez and attended high school in the East Bay town of Antioch, came home last week to join Gov. Newsom in Santa Clara as he announced his efforts to address the state’s ongoing homelessness crisis and a new COVID-19-related rental relief program.

Harris, who was picked in the first round of the NFL draft about a month ago, is using his celebrity and resources to support low-income families experiencing homelessness and hunger through his nonprofit Da’ Bigger Picture Foundation.

At the press conference with the governor, Harris shared his personal experience with homelessness and how that has

inspired him to help others in similar situations.

“Me my family we were all once homeless, moving around the Bay Area,” said Harris at the press conference. “San Francisco, Richmond. I lived in Pinole, Sacramento.”

“We were evicted numerous times and had to stay in homeless shelters, friends’ houses, cars. But as a family, we stuck together and made it through these tough times,” he said.

“Now I’m in a position to help out people. But a problem with no answer is just a problem,” Harris said referring to the state’s homelessness crisis.

Harris has dedicated personal time and resources to address poverty focused on education, homelessness, and food insecurity. He has also collaborated with Oakland native and former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch to address similar issues through fundraising initiatives and events.

The state created Project Homekey, a California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) grant program that funded programs and institutions in cities and counties to secure shelter for unhoused people.

It was a state initiative created to expand the scope of its programmatic predecessor, Project Roomkey. That effort was a temporary housing program implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the state, it was created to comply with the state’s shelter-in-place orders, provide spaces for people affected by COVID to recover and to serve as a first stop on a pathway to more permanent housing.

Through Roomkey, hotels and motels in California offered shelter for homeless people who were exposed to COVID-19 to recover and properly quarantine in an effort to minimize the strain on the healthcare system. Although Homekey provides interim housing, the state has secured over 6,000 additional housing units and bills that project as a pathway to permanent housing for homeless people.

Gov. Newsom said that the state acknowledges that homeless people are unable to live, “a good life in an unjust society.”

“You can sit there and point fingers or abdicate responsibility, but we have agency, we can shape the future decisions,” he said.

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

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