A tent in downtown Los Angeles on Feb. 18, 2023. Photo by Pablo Unzueta, CalMatters

(CALMATTERS) – Between 2018 and 2021, California spent nearly $10 billion trying to tackle the state’s homelessness crisis. Between 2021 and the end of this year, lawmakers plan to spend at least $12 billion more. Meanwhile, the population of Californians sleeping on sidewalks, beneath underpasses and alongside railroad tracks has only grown.

So where is all that money going?

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers wants to know. The Joint Legislative Audit Committee voted unanimously to order the State Auditor’s Office to answer some fairly basic unanswered questions about state homelessness policy: 

  • How much of it has been spent on services and how much on overhead? 
  • How effective are various state-funded programs at actually getting people permanently into homes? 

Last month, the Newsom administration put out a report that offered a bird’s eye view of state homelessness spending. But that report notably did not get into how the money ought to be spent. That task now falls to the auditor.

Sen. Dave Cortese, a Campbell Democrat, initially proposed the audit after touring an encampment in San Jose last fall. Since then, he’s been joined by Cupertino Democratic Assemblymember Evan Low and three Republicans — Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh of Rancho Cucamonga, Sen. Roger Niello of Sacramento and Assemblymember Josh Hoover of Folsom.

That rare bipartisan coalition also wants the auditor, Grant Parks, to look at the management of homelessness dollars in the city of San Jose, plus in another city of the auditor’s choosing. 

  • Cortese: “This audit isn’t really about any city. It’s certainly not about going after any city and it’s not an indictment… But it is an indictment on the indecency that’s going on out there right now.”

Also approved: An audit on long delays in wage theft claims.

As Alejandro Lazo and Jeanne Kuang of CalMatters’ California Divide team report, the committee asked the state auditor to investigate the state Labor Commissioner’s Office to find out why it takes the agency so long to clear worker claims of wage theft.

This is despite labor unions, including the California Labor Federation, opposing the audit, saying that it is unnecessary and it would distract the department, already strained and understaffed, from carrying out real improvements.

As a compromise, proponents of the audit have agreed to push the start date to Sept. 1. And if the labor commissionerimplements changes that will satisfy lawmakers before then, the committee can rescind its audit request.

By law, claims of wage theft are supposed to be in 120 days and decided 15 days after that. But in a multi-part investigation on wage theft, CalMatters revealed that from 2017 to 2021, California averaged 505 days, which later climbed to more than 800 days in 2022.