Los Angeles County outlines strategies to reduce homelessness

Los Angeles County officials released a wide-ranging plan Thursday with nearly four dozen recommended strategies to address homelessness in the region.

The problem has grown in recent years, with more than 44,000 people found to be without homes in last year's countywide homeless count, a 12% increase from 2013.

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Both city and county officials have been working on parallel plans to address homelessness, with the city's plan set to be released later Thursday. County officials held a series of 18 meetings with a working group of advocates, service providers and city officials late last year to develop their plan.

The county plan is intended as a roadmap for county supervisors to decide how to spend $100 million they committed to a new homelessness initiative last year, and to give ideas for future funding sources.

County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the county, which has a $28 billion annual budget, has more resources than the city to put toward addressing homelessness and will have to make a larger commitment in the long term.

"The county is going to be called on to do the heavy lifting, and I think we are making an unprecedented commitment to do that," she said.

In the short term, the group proposed that many of the initiatives could be partly paid for using state prison realignment and reentry money that is given to counties.

"Though the current level of available funding is far less than the funding needed to eliminate homelessness in Los Angeles County, these strategies are designed to reduce the current number of homeless families and individuals, maximize the alignment and effectiveness of current and future efforts, and lay the foundation for additional effective investments in the future," the report authors wrote.

Phil Ansell, the county administrator who headed up work on the report, said the proposals will complement existing county programs, including some that serve homeless people, but are not specific to them.

"The most important thing about these strategies is that they are coordinated and represent a comprehensive approach which address the full range of government services for homeless families and individuals, including health, social services and criminal justice,” he said.

The long-term sources of funding are less clear. The report mentioned that some money could come from costs savings in other programs, and from new funding available as a result of the Affordable Care Act, including for substance abuse treatment.

Supervisor Don Knabe said the county would need to look at more public-private partnerships and other creative means of expanding affordable housing. 

"Whatever you spend has to come from someplace else,” he said. “You really can’t spend your way out of homelessness.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said the initiative will require an "ongoing investment" from all sides.

"We need a full-on public-private partnership, with the business sector, faith-based organizations, and others – including people concerned about their neighbors – stepping up to help,” he said in a statement.

The report makes 47 recommendations, 12 of which it suggests should be implemented this year. Those include:

  • Expand a homeless-prevention program for families using $5 million in fraud incentive funding from CalWORKs, the welfare program that gives cash aid and services to eligible needy California families.
  • Give county assistance to homeless people who have applied for Supplemental Security Income through the federal government so they can get into housing in the meantime. This would require  spending $3.75 million from the county homeless initiative fund and $5 million in state funding.
  • Partner with cities to expand rapid rehousing programs to help homeless families into short-term housing while they are getting back on their feet, using $8 million in county homeless initiative money, $18 million in state funding and additional contributions from cities.

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  • Create programs to give landlords incentives to accept tenants who have federal rent subsidy vouchers by creating a damage-mitigation fund and making payments to hold units vacant, using $2 million in county homeless initiative money.
  • Fund more short-term housing — including shelter and group home beds — for people coming out of institutions such as jails and county hospitals, using $3.25 million in county homeless money and $8 million in state funds. In the long term, the county also would develop a protocol for all of its departments to avoid releasing people from institutions to the streets.
  • Give preference on county contracts to organizations that employ homeless and formerly homeless people, and offer a subsidy for those employers to offset wages, using $2 million in county homeless initiative money.
  • Expand outreach to people in county jails who are homeless or at risk of being homeless, to link them to services, using $2 million in county homeless initiative money and $3 million in state funds.
  • Increase coordination between different agencies by setting up a countywide training program for law enforcement and emergency responders who encounter homeless people; develop a countywide protocol on dealing with homeless encampments; and implement a countywide outreach system using $3 million in county homeless initiative funds.
  • Beef up the emergency shelter system, including the expansion of operating hours so all shelters run 24/7, using $1.5 million in county homeless initiative funds.

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Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Hilda Solis both said mental health services should be an important component of the plan.

“Housing will have little impact until we effectively address the primary causes of homelessness -- mental illness and substance abuse,” Antonovich said in a statement.  “What’s needed is to provide vital treatment for them to heal and reestablish productive lives.” 

Initial reaction from advocates and service providers was mixed.

Gary Blasi, a retired UCLA law professor and homelessness expert, said he thought the county plan was short on real action, instead calling for reports and working groups on many topics.

"If this plan is adopted, the only certain outcome is that there will be a lot more meetings of County bureaucrats," he said.

But Ruth Schwartz, a longtime advocate and executive director of Shelter Partnership, called the proposal promising.  

"Shelter Partnership applauds the proposed current funding plan to address homelessness as three-quarters of the funding goes toward housing and shelter," she said.

A public meeting on the plan will be held next week. The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote in February on a final version.

Twitter: @sewella

Times staff writer Gale Holland contributed to this report.



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2:40 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from Sheila Kuehl and Phil Ansell.

4:49 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from additional county supervisors and advocates.