County approves new homeless plan

Will spend about $150 million over 24 months

Merdies Hayes | 2/12/2016, midnight
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this week agreed to spend roughly $150 million over the next two years ...

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this week agreed to spend roughly $150 million over the next two years to fund a number of programs designed to assist the growing homeless population with both short- and long-term housing.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said that executing the plans will take “substantial resources” as well as requiring “political will and moral courage.”

The new plan is on top of the nearly $1 billion a year county officials estimate they currently spend on health and welfare services for law enforcement interactions with homeless persons. The new plan emerged from a series of meetings held with advocates, service providers and officials from the City of Los Angeles. Initially, about $26 million will be spent to expand “rapid rehousing” programs to help homeless families into short-term housing while they attempt to find work and stable, more permanent lodgings. About $11 million will be directed toward shelters and group homes for people coming out of county jails, hospitals and other institutions. Another $8.7 million will help subsidize disabled homeless people who have applied for Social Security benefits but do not have enough money to cover their basic needs. Federal housing vouchers will be administered by the county to assist the chronically homeless.

A countywide homeless count last year found that more than 44,000 people are living on the street anywhere from the Antelope Valley to the north to the Harbor region southward; there has been a reported 12 percent increase in persons living in encampments and vehicles since 2013.

The first phase of the plan will cover 12 months and includes the housing subsidies; job training/placement programs; case management and services; creation of a coordinated system for homeless services; and an increase in affordable housing. Individual cities such as Lancaster and Palmdale will be called on to help subsidize housing costs, create policies that encourage the construction of low-income housing and also improve the way local law enforcement and public safety officers interact with the homeless. For example, under the county homeless initiative, cities interested in helping with rent subsidies—under rapid re-housing—would pay $500 per month for each household receiving the assistance, while the county would match that cost.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich said treatment for mental illness must be emphasized in any strategy aimed at addressing homelessness.

“Mental illness continues to be a major factor contributing to the homelessness problem,” he said. “Addressing the issue requires strong linkages to treatment opportunities and proactive access to mental health care—especially for those whole illness precludes them from understanding and consenting to treatment.”

The county homeless plan is intended to be a roadmap of sorts for officials to decide how to spend about $100 million they committed for the new initiative, and also to give ideas for any and all feedback for future funding sources. Advocacy groups and various service providers helped to author the report and believe that many of the initiatives could be partly funded by using state prison realignment and reentry money already in county coffers.