LA County OKs Funding for Homeless Prevention, Housing

LOS ANGELES (CN) – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to expand funding for programs to help the county’s homeless residents connect to services and jobs, but officials said more is needed to get people off the street.

In 2017, LA County voters approved Measure H – a 10-year, quarter-cent sales tax that raises around $355 million annually to homeless residents to connect them with temporary housing, help county residents stay in their homes when facing eviction and support formerly homeless residents to find jobs.

Substance abuse treatment programs, transportation and mental health services are also supported by the tax.

The five-member board voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt dozens of recommendations for the third year of the Measure H program, including voting to allocate $460 million in tax revenue to fund more outreach workers, mobile showers and temporary housing.

Phil Ansell, director of the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative, told the board 14,000 homeless residents moved into housing with health services attached while more than 28,000 people were placed in temporary housing in the first 21 months of Measure H.

Ansell said the program is on track to house 45,000 homeless residents in the county.

An official count of homeless residents in the county tallied at least 53,000 individuals in 2018, with roughly 74% of those individuals, or 39,400, living unsheltered.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said she es happy with the progress but that the county still needs to build more housing and address rising rents.

“It’s like digging at the bottom of an avalanche,” Kuehl said. “It’s very difficult to get a handle on some of the causes of homelessness. We have to address affordability but we’re not in charge of it.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said the county needs to expand its partnership with service providers and demonstrate progress in order to gain the public’s trust.

“We are facing a deepening and dynamic crisis head-on in spite of serious headwinds that hinder our progress,” Ridley-Thomas said. “We must make it work for the good of this county and the sake of our very moral fiber.”

The board also approved two motions Tuesday by Supervisor Hilda Solis which, combined, will create 228 temporary beds for homeless residents and families. One motion facilitates an agreement between LA city and county to build a temporary homeless shelter while the other directs county funds to help offset the lease of 14 cottages in LA to be used for housing.

“Homelessness is a crisis, and we must think innovatively in order to address this issue directly,” Solis said in a statement. “As we continue to work on multiple fronts to end homelessness, including supporting state legislation, tackling rising rents through a rent stabilization ordinance, and working closely with our cities to develop and implement their own homelessness plans, there is more to do.”

The board also approved Supervisor Janice Hahn’s motion to spend $700,000 in Measure H funding to hire 22 community college students to help their homeless peers find housing and services.

A 2018 survey by the Hope Center found that one in five California community college students are homeless and even more experience food insecurity.

“For too long, community college students experiencing homelessness didn’t receive the support they needed because they didn’t fit the preconceived notion of what ‘homeless’ looked like,” Hahn said in a statement. “By hiring peer navigators who will help homeless college students overcome stigma, secure housing, and earn their degrees, we will get homeless students out of the shadows and into homes.”

In a press conference before the vote, Kirk Slaughter, a formerly homeless resident who now lives in supportive housing, said he is proof the county’s programs work.

“I’m an actual person that represents these statistics,” Slaughter said. “Just six months ago I was living under a bridge. But my case manager and her team pulled me up and got me into emergency housing – and now I have my own place with a key.”

The crisis of homelessness has appeared intractable at times and officials have been pushed by residents to find solutions to housing affordability and the public health emergency that comes with thousands of people living on the street.

LA voters also approved Proposition HHH in 2017, a $1.2 billion construction bond to build 10,000 homes in the county in a bid to address the affordability issue in the county.

But critics of the county’s efforts say it’s not enough. The California Department of Housing and Community Development has said the state is short more than 3.5 million units of housing for the lowest income households.

Cities across the state use a mix of general funds and voter-approved taxes to construct shelters and offer services for their growing homeless populations, but often those efforts aren’t enough either.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has stepped up, promising Southern California officials during visits in recent weeks that the state would financially back their efforts to tackle homelessness.

Newsom’s proposed state budget includes $500 million for cities to build emergency shelters or supportive housing for the homeless and another $100 million for health services.

The governor also proposed doling out nearly $2.5 billion from the state’s $21 billion rainy-day fund to cities that make efforts to address the statewide housing shortage.

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