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City, county and state officials all have homelessness plans. Who will actually make them work?

City, county and state officials all have homelessness plans. Who will actually make them work?
A homeless man sits at a bus stop in Los Angeleson Jan. 5. (Mike Nelson / EPA)

Under pressure to address the crisis of homelessness in Los Angeles, city and county leaders released separate reports last week laying out their strategies for solving the problem. The reports are long, sometimes bureaucratic — the county plan, in particular, calls for various agencies to get together and develop more plans — and sometimes clever. Both are wide-ranging, offering scores of recommendations large and small, from expanding the rapid rehousing of newly homeless people to stipulating what kind of specialists should be present when the county and city send teams out to homeless encampments.

Plans have been trotted out before, and as with previous go-arounds, no elected officials have stepped up (yet) to take personal responsibility for making them work.


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It's commendable that both entities appear to be on the same page. But the bottom line is both grim and not really news: Both the city and the county need lots more housing and lots more money than either has. The authors of the city report — the chief administrative officer and chief legislative officer — estimate that it will cost the city more than $1.85 billion over 10 years to build the needed units and provide enough rent subsidies to house all of its homeless people.

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The residents of the city and the county — those who have housing and the 44,000 who don't — have waited years for government officials to deal effectively with this complex problem, which has only gotten worse over the past year despite the improving economy. So now local, county and state officials have all responded with plans. But plans have been trotted out before, and as with previous go-arounds, no elected officials have stepped up (yet) to take personal responsibility for making them work.

On the plus side, there are plenty of good, specific recommendations in the reports that can be implemented immediately; these include prioritizing housing vouchers for homeless people, helping jail inmates at risk of becoming homeless line up services and subsidies months before their release, and putting more money into rapid rehousing of people newly homeless. The reports also call for a sort of homelessness czar at the city and county to make sure the recommendations are carried out.

The proof, though, will be in the execution. And it will take an unprecedented amount of political will for the city and county to raise the money needed for housing, as well as to find places to put it.

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