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Much about California’s homelessness crisis has confounded state and local officials. But what to do about the tens of thousands of people living outdoors has perhaps done so more than anything else.

Searching for a solution, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, co-chairs of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Homeless and Supportive Housing Advisory Task Force, are looking to New York. They want California to enact a legal “right to shelter.”

If adopted, it would compel cities and counties to build enough large shelters to accommodate any homeless person who asks to come indoors. But Steinberg and Ridley-Thomas want to go a step further and also require that homeless people be forced to accept shelter if offered. How the state would enforce the second requirement is unclear.

Both men have been vague about whether this right to shelter would be implemented through state legislation, an executive action by Newsom or whether cities would pass their own ordinances. But it would amount to a major philosophical shift in how California handles homelessness.

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