The Measure H sales tax increase has provided enough money to move homeless people off the streets and get them the services they need, but community support needs to be part of the solution, county officials said Tuesday.
Advocates for the homeless rallied next to a giant open door set up outside the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration to represent an opportunity to join the fight against homelessness, as the five members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors offered an update on Measure H spending.
“Measure H is funding everything you need to move someone into housing and all it takes to make sure someone stays housed,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said.
The county moved 10,330 people into crisis, bridge and interim housing with Measure H dollars from July 2017 to March 2018, according to board documents. More than 5,200 homeless families and individuals have found permanent housing during the same time period.
Roughly 80 percent of the total dollars raised have been spent. Phil Ansell, who leads the county’s Homeless Initiative, called it an “extraordinarily fast roll-out” when compared with other new initiatives.
Despite some early problems with slow payments and understaffing at the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Ansell said the pace of spending puts the county on track to meet its goal of moving 45,000 homeless families and individuals into permanent housing during the first five years of Measure H funding.
County officials have learned some important lessons as they’ve rolled out a host of new strategies, including that multi-disciplinary outreach teams working to encourage homeless individuals to access services cannot be effective if they operate during normal business hours. That finding led the board to fund new teams that will work nights and weekends.
But one big obstacle remains. As the county and city push to build permanent supportive housing, planned developments have encountered vocal opposition from community members in neighborhoods ranging from Boyle Heights to Venice.
The most recent example is in Koreatown, where residents say they were blindsided by the city of Los Angeles’ plan to build a 65-bed homeless shelter in their neighborhood.
Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas said the first step in getting permanent supportive housing built has to be community outreach.
Kuehl pointed to an affordable housing project on a once-vacant lot in the Valley Glen neighborhood adjacent to Van Nuys. The county shared the architectural plan with neighbors and also invited homeless people — “veterans, elderly people, people who were actually going to live there” — to meetings with local residents, who were encouraged to “just sit down and see who these people are.”
The community ultimately supported the 64-unit project.
Ridley-Thomas said it’s no surprise that new housing developments encounter opposition, as virtually all land-use projects, even supermarkets in under-served neighborhoods, get pushback.
The aim is to educate residents and persuade them that affordable housing amounts to an investment of millions of dollars in their community and is not something to be feared.
“There can be no conscientious objectors in the battle against homelessness,” Ridley-Thomas said, a twist on the United Way of Greater Los Angeles’ “Everyone In” campaign.
Supervisor Janice Hahn agreed.
“Each one of us here has experienced NIMBY-ism in our communities and our neighborhoods. The idea was we hope you solve this problem, but we hope you solve it not in our backyard,” Hahn said. “`Everyone In’ is a campaign to lift up YIMBY-ism, which is `Yes, in my backyard.”’
A poll released by the United Way in March found that 69 percent of Los Angeles residents said they would support housing for the homeless in their neighborhood.
The nonprofit is working to build more support and “make that quiet majority not so quiet,” said Chris Ko, the organization’s director of homeless initiatives. United Way is also introducing more residents to the individuals behind the statistics on homeless, through storytelling events, for example, where homeless individuals can talk to neighbors about their experiences.
Cecilia Najar, a downtown resident, told the Board of Supervisors during a meeting that followed the news conference that she interacts daily with the homeless population on skid row and she and her neighbors consider themselves “troops on the ground.”
Najar told City News Service that she wants people to understand that “there are a huge number of people who are simply former janitors and PE teachers and some actors and people who this city used to be able to support; (members of) a creative class, a service class and factory workers. We are no longer that city.”
The board approved $402 million in Measure H spending for fiscal year 2018-19, which reflects public input and includes:
— $120 million for shelters and interim housing, including the addition of 3,250 beds;
— $73 million for rapid re-housing, including rent and move-in subsidies and landlord incentives;
— $49 million for permanent supportive housing;
— $30 million for outreach; and
— $17 million for prevention.
Meanwhile, the board is awaiting the results of LAHSA’s point-in-time homeless count, expected to be released at the end of this month, to see whether the number of people living in the street is up or down and, if up, whether the pace of increase has slowed.