Los Angeles County voters on Tuesday gave the green light to a quarter-cent sales tax increase intended to raise an estimated $355 million a year to pay for an ambitious plan to battle homelessness.
The vote follows the approval last November of an L.A. city ballot measure to issue $1.2 billion in bonds to fund the construction of homes and shelters.
With the cash in hand, how should it be spent?
"It's the first step towards ultimate victory," said Rev. Andy Bales from Union Rescue Mission. "Don't feel like, 'Hey, we've crossed the finish line.'"
Stephanie Klasky-Gamer of Los Angeles Family Housing added, "Because it's all so new, it's a bit of building the plane as we're flying it that's going to happen."
Take Two talked with these two advocates for the homeless about how they would like to see taxpayers' money spent, and how the process will work.
Who is making the decisions?
For H, the county measure that funds services, a panel of 50 people who will have a say.
Reverend Bales is a part of that, and the money will be handed out to homeless providers and certain L.A. County departments.
The money from L.A. city's Measure HHH will be overseen by a committee too.
But while the city committee holds the purse strings, it will be service providers such as Los Angeles Family Housing that do all the actual building.
What's the timeline for how the money will be rolled out?
Officials are figuring that out now.
In the past couple of weeks — about four months after Measure HHH was approved in November — L.A. city asked homeless services providers to submit plans for new homes, shelters or facilities.
If they're approved by the panel, those providers could get a slice of the $1.2 billion. They have until this Friday to get those applications in.
Bales expects L.A. County will follow a similar timeline when it comes to money raised through Measure H — it will be about four months from now until providers can start applying for money.
What kinds of services can Measure H fund?
A lot. One example is called a "warm referral."
Let's say someone in prison is about to be released, or someone's been hospitalized and they're about to be discharged. That person might not have a home to go to.
"A case manager's going to come right into the hospital and work with that person," Bales said. "You don't just get a slip of paper. Someone's going to work with you to make sure that there's a warm hand-off' to another human being."
So that case worker is a stopgap to make sure the homeless person finds a place to live instead of heading to the streets.
Programs like this already exist, but in a limited form.
"With the passage of H, what it allows us to do is expand that system," Klasky-Gamer said. "We know that it works. H is allowing us to scale that up."
What kinds of housing can Measure HHH fund?
There are city-owned plots of land throughout Los Angeles, and officials invited homeless service providers like Los Angeles Family Housing to come up with projects to build on those sites.
"They are across the city, from the Westside to the San Fernando Valley, from South L.A. to East L.A.," Klasky-Gamer said.
If a provider is approved, it will get some of that $1.2 billion from November's Measure HHH.
But that's only the first step.
"The funds that were approved through HHH, that only represents about 30 percent of the financing we need on every building that gets built," Klasky-Gamer said.
However, a service provider can get the rest of the money it needs by turning to state and federal programs. The money from HHH can give a leg up in that process.
What else is on their wish lists?
"I would like to take over an empty hospital and open it up as quickly as I could for 24-7 comprehensive care, but shelter," Bales said. "It would be a lot better if the county would lease us an empty hospital for $1 and we could immediately house people and get them off the streets."
"Finding deeper rental subsidies, so when [homeless people] find permanent housing — apartments for them to rent — we can subsidize their low-wage earnings," Klasky-Gamer said. "The majority of our families are working. They're just earning such low wages that they can't afford a typical rent in L.A."
How can taxpayers find out how their money will be spent? How can they have a say in the process?
Start going to your local neighborhood council meetings. A homeless coordinator is assigned to every one.
"We work closely with all the neighborhood councils in our service planning area," Klasky-Gamer said.
She added that her organization will take what residents say in forums like those very seriously.
Also, don't be afraid to reach out directly to providers like Los Angeles Family Housing and the Union Rescue Mission to offer ideas or criticism.
What is a good date to see whether any of this money is making a difference?
"I hope we see some success within the first year," Bales said. "The biggest proof will be how many people you'll be seeing on the streets. Has it decreased? Has it increased?"
Changes won't happen overnight, but both Bales and Klasky-Gamer said to take a look around your neighborhood in March 2018 and tell them if things are different.