It's frustrating to watch homeless people living on the streets, as if they were stray animals that no one knew what to do with. Our visceral responses range from "How can I help them?" to "How can I get them to go away?"
Here is how you can start to answer those questions: Vote for Measure H on Tuesday. Offered by the Board of Supervisors, the measure would raise the sales tax a quarter of a percent to fund a variety of life-changing services for homeless people on a scale large enough, finally, to make a dent in homelessness.
The county is already funding many of its homelessness strategies. But if it can't fund them at a level that moves significantly more people from the streets or shelters into permanent housing, then we are never going to come close to alleviating the misery.
County officials estimate that the expanded services could lift 45,000 families and individuals out of homelessness in five years and prevent an additional 30,000 people from becoming homeless in the first place. Although the January 2016 homeless count found nearly 47,000 people homeless in the county, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority estimates that more than three times that — some 157,000 people — are homeless for at least part of the year. Some can resolve their problems on their own, but many others cannot.
Measure H will be on every ballot in Los Angeles County. Even if you live in a community where it's the only thing on your ballot, you should go out and vote for it. It's that important.
The measure would raise an estimated $355 million annually for 10 years, then expire. A portion of the money will help pay for the supportive services needed by the chronically homeless people who will live in the thousands of units to be built in the city of Los Angeles under Proposition HHH, the $1.2-billion bond measure that city voters overwhelmingly approved in November. Developers of those units can't get bond money until they have service providers lined up, so passing Measure H is key to fulfilling the promise of Measure HHH.
But that's just part of what Measure H would enable. Its dollars would fund mental health services, job counseling and substance abuse treatment across the county; more outreach to homeless people on the streets; much-needed subsidies to rapidly re-house people who became homeless through job losses or other catastrophes; temporary "bridge" housing before people get permanent homes; emergency shelter beds; services for homeless young adults; help for people coming out of jail with no homes; and — for the first time — financial assistance and services for adults on the verge of homelessness. (That kind of prevention service is already offered to families.)
With so many tax dollars at issue, the public expects accountability and high standards of performance. There are a couple of reasons to be confident that Measure H funds would be spent wisely and outcomes tracked to make sure the spending delivers results.
First, the county has a detailed plan in place, drawn up last year in collaboration with public and private service providers. There are also strategies beyond that plan ready to be implemented if H is approved. Officials wouldn't be making things up as they went along.
Second, service providers receiving county money are already required to track their results. For example, if a service provider is contracted to do outreach to an area of 300 homeless people, the provider must keep statistics on how many homeless people were contacted, how many they opened a management plan on, how many they got housed.
If Measure H passes, county officials will provide quarterly reports on outcomes for each homelessness strategy — how many homeless people got rapid re-housing funds; how many got bridge housing; and so on. A Citizens Homeless Initiative Oversight Board would also oversee the spending of the Measure H revenue and put out regular reports.
We expect these reports to let us measure progress and make changes where necessary. This is not easy work. People who have struggled on the streets for years, sometimes hobbled by a mental illness or substance abuse, take a longer time to trust outreach workers and a system that promises services and housing. As Va Lecia Adams Kellum, chief executive of the St. Joseph Center in Venice, put it, "Sometimes because they are mentally ill, it takes some time for them to get to a place and space where they can say, 'yes.'" In other words, Adams Kellum says, the task before us is not a short walk, "it's a marathon."
So let's start running.