LA County tackles homelessness in new budget

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Los Angeles County officials are calling for more money to address the region's growing homelessness problem and get more people into temporary housing in the next year.

The $28.5 billion budget is an increase of $282 million from this year's budget, much of it is going to the sheriff’s department, public health programs and general assistance in what is the country’s largest municipal government.

But county officials have been under increased pressure to deal with homelessness, which rose 12 percent between 2013 and 2015. The budget proposal released by county CEO Sachi Hamai Monday includes roughly $99 million for housing and serving homeless people.

A large chunk of that — about $64 million — comes from funding allocated to homelessness this year, which the county doesn't expect to spend before the year ends. Another $21 million will be paid with state funds that the county receives, as part of the AB 109 prison realignment law.

Community advocates who work with homeless people said they saw the allocation as a larger investment than in years past. 

"I think it looks good," said Troy Vaughn, who helps former inmates once they get out of jail as the head of the L.A. Regional Re-entry Partnership. "We are excited about the future of our ability to help people that are living on the street."

Chris Ko of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles said the homeless funding "is a major step up for what we’ve been doing at the county."

But he said he'd like to see the county invest even more money.

"When you look at other cities like New York and consider their municipal investment is $500 million, I don’t think it’s a giant surprise that we have the homeless situation that we do" in Los Angeles, Ko said.

He said he's hopeful that during public hearings on the budget in the coming months the Board of Supervisors will consider adding $10 to $20 million more for homelessness so the county can dispatch several hundred more staffers to work on the issue.

"A lot of it just comes down to, do we have enough people out there in terms of outreach workers and case managers?" Ko said. 

For the first time ever, the county is paying for some homeless programs with the state's AB 109 funds — a critical move, according to Vaughn.

"When you have a large portions of individuals that are coming out of incarceration with nowhere to live it obviously makes sense we’re bridging that gap," Vaughn said.

Under AB 109, L.A. County is supervising about 8,000 offenders who have been released from prison in the past two years because they committed lower-level drug crimes. About 1,400 of them are homeless.

Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said most of the AB 109 funds is going to law enforcement, and she was glad to see the county set aside some of that money for homeless housing. She said former inmates often have nowhere to live.

"People who have been serving a lot of time incarcerated may have lost connections to people so when they come out, they're homeless," Lyman said.

Lyman said the pathway between the criminal justice system and the streets is common, as former inmates on the streets get picked up again for low-level crimes.

The county supervisors will vote on a budget plan in June.

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