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Here's how L.A. County citizens panel wants to spend $355 million a year in homelessness fight

The citizen planning group for the Measure H sales tax drew up final recommendations Wednesday for how Los Angeles County should spend $355 million annually over the next three years to fight homelessness.

The 50-member panel — composed of homeless advocates, service providers, local government and county officials, and business and nonprofit leaders — largely endorsed the requests made by officials of the county agencies and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority on where most of the money should go.

At the top of the list is $216 million to provide short-term rental subsidies and services to homeless people who have the capacity to become self-sufficient. The panel also recommended spending $208.6 million to open more shelters and expand interim housing for the chronically homeless waiting for permanent homes, and $146.5 million for services for those in permanent supportive housing.

Measure H, approved by county voters in March, raised the sales tax by a quarter-cent for 10 years. The planning group was appointed to review proposals for the first three years.

The recommended budgets for years two and three are tentative, allowing flexibility as experience is gained with the 21 strategies considered by the panel. Many of the strategies have never been tried on such a large scale.

The recommendations are scheduled to be considered June 13 by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which will make the final decisions.

In most cases, the proposed spending starts slowly in the first year, beginning in July when the sales tax increase goes into effect.

The panel’s recommendations climb from $259 million in the first year to $374 million in year two and $432 million in year three, when it is anticipated that the ongoing spending levels will be reached.

Over the three years, that would even out to almost exactly the anticipated revenue, but would establish ongoing expenses that could put programs in the red. Phil Ansell, director of the county Homeless Initiative, conceded that cuts might have to be made in the future if sales tax revenues don’t increase.

The planning group, chaired by Ansell, was able to resolve most questions about the funding recommendations during the four-hour meeting at the downtown Cathedral Plaza Ballroom.

The only item that split the panel was a proposal to provide $1 million a year to the Sheriff’s Department for homeless outreach. Several members strongly supported it while others said the department should find the money in its own budget for outreach. Arguments from both sides will be transmitted to the Board of Supervisors.

A meeting April 13 had brought the group close to anarchy as some members brought up fundamental questions about the conflict between long-term and short-term solutions and the panel wrestled with requests from county agencies that far exceeded the available funds.

Requests in the first round soared to $613 million by the third year, leaving panelists with the duty of cutting drastically rather than deliberating adjustments between strategies. The group then voted to instruct county officials to bring their requests into line with the available funds.

At later meetings Ansell sought to build a consensus around each funding strategy considered by the panel. As a result, the panel largely accepted the revised funding requests.

Dissent emerged over the $124 million allotted to services and rental subsidies for permanent supportive housing. In the straw vote, 38 members wanted that amount increased. The final recommendation raised it to $146.5 million.

Andy Bales, chief executive of the Union Rescue Mission, said he was satisfied with the result even though he had earlier raised a strong protest, saying half the money should go directly to providers working with homeless people.

“I’m a realist,” Bales said. “I know there is only so much we can do at this time.”

doug.smith@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATDoug

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