In the fall of 2015, Los Angeles city officials looked around at the homeless encampments that had sprawled across the landscape and declared a meaningless state of emergency. They had no blueprint for reducing homelessness, no plans to house thousands of homeless people and no money for any plans that might materialize.
Now, a year and a half later, city and county officials who rarely consulted each other in the past have put forth coordinated plans for tackling the problem. In November, city voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition HHH, authorizing $1.2 billion in bonds to build 10,000 units of housing for homeless and low-income people. And although the results aren’t yet final, county voters on Tuesday appeared to approve Measure H, which raises the sales tax a quarter of a percent to support an array of services for homeless people. All these steps reflect a stunning resolve on the part of officials and voters alike to stop ignoring homelessness and try to end it.
Let’s not lose the sense of urgency that got us here. The newly enacted Measure H will generate an estimated $355 million annually for a decade, with the dollars starting to pour in this summer. The county has begun planning how to divide the money among various homelessness strategies, streamline the hiring of staff and contractors and collect data to measure how well these efforts are addressing the problem. Having persuaded voters to contribute billions of dollars to the fight, the county owes it to them to rigorously track the results of the new spending and adjust its approach as necessary.
Beyond that, county officials should make sure that some of their strategies get implemented right away. One is the significant increase of funding for rapid rehousing, which provides rental subsidies to people who recently have become homeless. The sooner a person or family can be rehoused, the sooner they can recapture a stable life with a job.
Another is expanding outreach. It can take weeks and months of work by an outreach team to win the trust of a homeless person on the street. Consider what a team from St. Joseph Center has done in the vicinity of 3rd and Rose avenues in Venice. Since October, the team has gotten 42 people off the streets and into interim housing, shelters and a few permanent homes. Yet the number of homeless people in the area hasn’t changed: at least 40 every day. As fast as St. Joseph can house them, more homeless people arrive, says the center’s chief executive, Va Lecia Adams Kellum.
Even though there are other outreach teams operating in Venice and on the Westside, it’s not enough. “We need to make sure when we take 40 people off the street, it feels like 40 people are off the street,” Adams Kellum says.
A large chunk of the H revenue will fund the services for permanent supportive housing that Proposition HHH aims to build in the city. The challenge there is not just to find sites for those projects, but to build support from those who live around them.
Officials already have found several underused city-owned lots that would be appropriate for this housing, and they have picked developers for each site. To head off neighborhood opposition, city officials have instructed the developers to work with the communities to allay their fears and get their input on the design of the projects. One example is Venice Community Housing, which has been consulting for weeks with community residents on the size and appearance of the project it wants to develop in Venice on a stretch of Venice Boulevard between Dell and Pacific avenues. (Half of the units will be for homeless people, and half will be for low-income residents.)
Communities clearly should have some say in what these housing developments will look like. But the city can’t put the burden of persuading neighborhoods to accept them on developers alone. Elected officials need to spend political capital to bring reluctant neighbors on board, delivering the message that every community has to play a role in solving a problem that we all share. If officials waver on this basic duty, then they will undermine the county’s efforts to significantly reduce homelessness. And they will be letting down all the voters who gave them the money to make housing and services a reality.