Business & Economy

LA County approves $1 billion plan for fighting homelessness

Homeless advocates celebrated outside the county building as the Board of Supervisors took up a massive spending plan to tackle homelessness.
Homeless advocates celebrated outside the county building as the Board of Supervisors took up a massive spending plan to tackle homelessness.
Rina Palta, KPCC

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The L.A. County Board of Supervisors have authorized broad investments in combatting homelessness totaling nearly $1 billion over the next few years.

Hundreds of millions of dollars raised under Measure H, a sales tax which kicks in Oct. 1, will go into new homeless shelters, rental subsidies, and supportive services to try to stem the region's growing homeless crisis. The board unanimously authorized the spending plan Tuesday.

"We've got to make this work for the good of this county and for the sake of our very moral fibre," said L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. 

The funding plan covers the coming fiscal year, with tentative projections for the following two years. The biggest ticket items are new temporary crisis housing, rental subsidies, and case management services designed to help people either become self-sufficient or find long term help.

The tax, which kicks in Oct. 1, is expected to generate $266 million in its first fiscal year and as much as $355 million annually as it goes forward. By law, the money must go into services for homeless.

Over 69 percent of L.A. County voters approved the measure in March. 

Obstacles remain, not least the seemingly endless river of people falling into homelessness each year. In January, volunteers with the county's homeless count tallied 58,000 people sleeping on the streets, in cars, and in shelters—a 23 percent rise over the previous year. That rise came despite entities in L.A. County housing over 14,000 people last year, a record number.

"These are daunting numbers, but we're not daunted by them," said Chris Ko of the United Way, which helped lead the effort to pass the measure. "We're excited to get to work."

Officials will also have to figure out how to site new housing for homeless and homeless shelters in communities that have been less-than-receptive to welcoming services into their neighborhoods. They'll also have to figure out how, in a competitive rental market, to recruit landlords to accept temporary and permanent rental subsidies to house homeless. 

"I'm concerned our capacity is not where it needs to be," said Supervisor Janice Hahn. "This is our moment, and if we are going to address this problem, we all have to do our fair share in getting people off the streets."

Supervisor Kathryn Barger also pointed to the work ahead.

"The good news is we have the money, the bad news is we now have to address the issue of 'not-in-my-backyard,'" she said. 

Overall, however, the mood Tuesday was hopeful.

"This is going to change lives," said Linda Lowry, Pomona's city manager. 

A 50-member panel of county officials, homeless service providers, faith leaders, and formerly homeless drafted the funding recommendations. The group came to a negotiated consensus on nearly all of the plan.

The most contentious issue was a request from the L.A. County Sheriff's Department for funding for deputies dedicated to working with the homeless. Some panel members scoffed at the idea of giving homeless service dollars to law enforcement, which already accounts for nearly a third of the county's budget.

The sheriff's department, however, argued police are the only ones positioned to effectively outreach to some homeless, including sex trafficking victims—and that it's important law enforcement be part of the team coordinating solutions.

"Everybody's underfunded," said L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. "But when I look at our organization and just how far we're stretched, you really have to have people who are dedicated to the mission, personnel who can interact on a daily basis with the homeless community."

Supervisors opted to find money for the sheriff's positions elsewhere, allocating dollars from AB109 to the sheriff's positions, as well as similar programs for small law enforcement agencies around the county that want to participate. 

The board also adopted plans to increase domestic violence shelter beds, increase access to child care for homeless families, and allocate some dollars to cities for their own homeless outreach efforts.

Greg Spiegel, of the Inner City Law Center, who sat on the panel that drafted the plan, said that he assumed it's imperfect.

"This is our best forecast of what will work, but we're not going to be right about everything," Spiegel said. He advocated for continuing to rigorously evaluate programs as they roll out and make adjustments as results come in. 

An independent auditor and outside evaluator will separately report on the measure and its outcomes each year. Additionally, the L.A. County CEO's office will provide outcome data on a quarterly basis. A citizen's oversight advisory board will also monitor progress. Supervisors are also looking for an academic partnership to provide impartial analysis on the various programs the measure funds.