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New sales tax kicks in Sunday to fund homeless services

Homeless advocates applauded Measure H's passage. Now, they're ramping up promised services. Rina Palta, KPCC

Money is about to start pouring in to L.A. County's most ambitious (and expensive) effort yet to tackle homelessness.

The funding comes from a sales tax hike that kicks in Sunday, thanks to Measure H, which county voters approved in March. The 1/4-cent rise will go entirely to services and housing for homeless people. It's expected to generate as much as $355 million annually.

In reality, some of that money has already been spent.

County agencies and nonprofit contractors have already started ramping up outreach teams, placing people in rental units, and teams dedicated to signing up people for disability benefits.

"Because of the urgency of the homeless crisis in the county, the Board of Supervisors approved expenditures," said Phil Ansell, director of the county's Homeless Initiative. 

The county's also under pressure to move quickly—the tax expires in ten years and its proponents made a commitment to housing 45,000 people in the first five years and prevent another 30,000 from becoming homeless.

"By next year, we will have good news to report," said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the measure and campaigned for its passage. "I am encouraged by the energy, innovation, and accountability that's going to make voters proud."

The citizen's committee overseeing that accountability met for the first time this week and announced plans to partner with academics to follow the funding and evaluate its effectiveness. The first report is expected in about six months.

Funding in the first year will focus on beefing up outreach teams, providing long and short-term rental subsidies to people and families currently on the streets, and beefing up the shelter system to get people off the streets into temporary shelter quickly. 

The board approved the initial spending package in June.