Moving Forward to Fund the Fight Against Homelessness


Acting on a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to seek a change in state law that would keep all options open to fund the fight against homelessness.

“To address the profundity of the crisis and the depth of poverty and homelessness in the county, we have to do more,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said during Tuesday’s Board meeting, where more than 150 members of the public testified in support of his motion.

“It won’t get better unless we have significant intervention,” he added. “Each member of this Board has said repeatedly that one-time funding isn’t sufficient. Now it’s time to get on with the rigorous exploration of the kind of funding that would be necessary.”


With 46,874 people living on the streets of Los Angeles County on any given day – up 5.6 percent from last year – Supervisor Ridley-Thomas called homelessness “the most compelling crisis that confronts us.” He added the County is “uniquely positioned and, therefore, specifically obliged” to take action because of its massive social services, health and public safety infrastructure.

Since adopting a sweeping set of strategies February to address the worsening crisis, the Board has been weighing options for funding. This includes redirecting Measure B revenue, or imposing a parcel tax, a marijuana tax, a half-cent sales tax, or a half-percent tax on personal income exceeding $1 million a year.

A recent poll found 76 percent of likely voters favor the last option – a “dramatic level of support,” pollster David Binder told the Board. The Board, however, does not currently have the authority to put such an initiative on the November ballot. Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl’s motion, which passed with the support of Supervisor Hilda Solis, launches the County’s efforts to seek that authority from the state Legislature and Governor.

“Our actions show that the Board is strongly committed to finding the long-term funding needed to implement the County’s innovative and comprehensive Homelessness Initiative,” Supervisor Kuehl said. “The friendly amendment I introduced this week also allows us to evaluate the interaction of this possible County tax with a new state bond proposal which could build housing in the County.”

The Board also approved Tuesday a measure by Supervisors Solis and Don Knabe that would delve into how the County uses existing funding to serve the homeless. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas expressed support, saying, “It continues our long-term efforts to always ensure we are leveraging existing resources as effectively as possible.”

More than 150 people testified before the Board to support continued efforts to address the homelessness crisis. Steve Renahana of the nonprofit Shelter Partnership told the Board: “Thank you for your leadership in passing a comprehensive set of strategies to address homelessness in the County, and thank you even more for beginning the heavy lifting of providing the resources that are necessary to implement those strategies.”

Marsha Temple, executive director of the nonprofit Integrated Recovery Network, added, “The cost of doing nothing is too high, both in terms of funding and human misery.”

“I’m so proud that you always remember who you’re working for,” said “Sweet” Alice Harris, an advocate for the homeless. “I’m glad you didn’t let God down. Thank you.”

Board of Supervisors Journey to D.C.

Julian Castro

L-R: Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, HUD Secretary Julian Castro; Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas; CEO Sachi Hamai; Sheriff Jim McDonnell and Health Services Secretary Mitch Katz

The Board of Supervisors recently concluded its annual trip to the nation’s capital on a quest for federal assistance to address Los Angeles County’s crisis of homelessness, expand its transportation system, and jumpstart its bioscience industry.


With Senator Dianne Feinstein

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas traveled to Washington D.C. with Supervisors Hilda Solis, Sheila Kuehl, Don Knabe and Michael Antonovich on April 18-21. They met with several members of Congress, including Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, as well as officials in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet.


With Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi

The supervisors briefed Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro about the County’s shortage of 500,000 affordable housing units, and he advised them to apply for funding from theNational Housing Trust Fund, among other recommendations.

Jay Williams

With the Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary for Economic Development Roy Kojo Jawara “Jay” Williams

Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Phil Washington joined their meeting with Deputy Transportation Secretary Victor Mendez and Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Affairs Jerry Abramson. The board sought $375 million in federal grants for the downtown LA Regional Connector and Purple Line Extension, and funding for other projects as well.

Seeking to jumpstart the bioscience industry, members of the board met with the Department of Commerce’s Assistant Secretary for Economic Development Roy Kojo Jawara “Jay” Williams.

With Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Jerry Abramson

They discussed an initiative to create bioscience hubs within the County’s medical research facilities, in partnership with academic institutions and the private sector.

Board members met with Roy Austin, Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity, to discuss public safety policies, such as the impact of Proposition 47, which downgrades certain felonies to misdemeanors.

Overall, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said the trip was very beneficial for Los Angeles County and that the board will maintain close ties with officials in Washington, D.C. as they seek federal support for pressing issues back home.

Preserving Our Options to Fund the Fight Against Homelessness

MRT SK Homeless (1 of 1)
Over several hours of impassioned testimony, dozens of advocates for the homeless urged the Board of Supervisors to approve a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl that would keep all options open for addressing Los Angeles County’s crisis of homelessness.

The Board voted to continue discussing the motion on May 17.

It has been weighing several options to pay for programs to help the homeless, from redirecting Measure B revenue to imposing a parcel tax, a marijuana tax, a sales tax, or a tax on personal income exceeding $1 million per year.

Preserving the last option requires an amendment to State law. Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl’s motion directs the Board to “pursue a change in State law to grant counties the authority to seek voter approval of a tax on personal income above $1 million/year to combat homelessness.”

“I think we need to be resolute and charge the state Legislature and the Governor with the opportunity and/or the obligation to help us to fight, end, work on, eradicate, address this issue of homelessness, which is worsening as we speak,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

MRT Homeless1 (1 of 1)“If the state Legislature chooses not to do it, it won’t because we failed to make the request,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “We would want to be recorded as having moved an agenda that sought to raise the dignity and worth of all Angelenos.”

According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 2016 Homeless Count, 46,874 people are homeless on any given night in Los Angeles County, a 6 percent increase from last year. Still, the number of homeless veterans declined 30 percent, and there are 18 percent fewer homeless persons among families with children.

Phil Ansell, director of the County’s Homeless Initiative, noted recent polling found 68 percent of likely voters would support a sales tax increase to fund programs for the homeless. An even larger number, 76 percent, would back a tax increase on incomes exceeding $1 million.

More than 100 people signed up to testify before the Board on the issue, including some who had experienced homelessness first hand, and some who provide services to the homeless every day.

Alex Johnson, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund, said, “We have a moral obligation to improve the quality of life of those who are homeless, sleeping in shelters and cars and hotels, or doubled up on a couch. Innumerable individuals are just one paycheck, one illness, one family crisis away from homelessness.”

People Assisting The Homeless (PATH) executive director Katie Hill said, “In over 30 years of operating, we’ve never seen so much public attention focused on homeless or the public support, as indicated by the polling results, to implement and fund long-term solutions. The public is asking for actions and is willing to invest. This motion is a necessary step towards providing the critical resources needed to ensure our ability to end homeless in our communities.”

“I know raising taxes is always going to be something that divides this Board room, but I do think we should at least keep the option open,” Eric Ares with the Los Angeles Community Action Network said. “This is not about voting for the tax, but about keeping the option open, keeping the debate going”

“We have unprecedented political will on the part of the supervisors, the voters, the advocacy community, service providers, the city,” Ares added. ”This is our moment to make this happen so, at the very least, we shouldn’t be shutting the door to the idea that we could do this.”

MRT Homeless Crowd (1 of 1)

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas speaks with advocates for the homeless after they testified before the Board of Supervisors in support of his motion, which was coauthored by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

The Time for Action On
The Homeless Crisis is Now


Los Angeles County has reached a critical moment when political will, public support and resources are all within reach to finally put an end to the spiraling epidemic of mass homelessness.

Just a couple months after the Board of Supervisors approved a historic and comprehensive plan to address the crisis, a new L.A.County sponsored poll shows that voters would overwhelmingly approve a ballot initiative this fall to combat homelessness – even if it means taking money out of their own pockets to pay for it.

According to the survey, 68 percent of likely voters would support a sales tax increase to fund programs for the homeless. An even larger number, 76 percent, would back a tax increase on incomes exceeding $1 million.

Homelessness is the defining civic issue in the County of Los Angeles, and we need to confront it.  We are facing a moral crisis.  And a moral crisis demands a moral solution.

In 2015, Los Angeles County alone accounted for 8 percent of the homeless population throughout the United States – 44,359 on any given night. Many live far beyond the boundaries of Skid Row, sleeping on sidewalks and park benches, under bridges, in cars and abandoned buildings.

With the upcoming release of the 2016 Homeless Count, the situation will seem even bleaker. It is expected to confirm what most residents are already seeing with their own eyes in their own neighborhoods: that more people than ever are living on the streets, often in tents.

The good news is that we know what works and right now, we are seeing positive results from those efforts. One of the County’s programs, Housing for Health, has already taken 1,400 people off the streets and placed them into permanent supportive housing. Another 2,500 will join them by the summer of 2017. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) – a joint County and City agency – has housed 1,500 families in just over the last year and a half.

The Homeless Initiative plan approved by the Board in February should have an even greater impact. Its sweeping strategies are intended, not only to house the homeless, but to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. It also includes increasing affordable and subsidized housing, providing supportive services and raising incomes. The plan calls for unprecedented collaboration among County and City agencies, as well as businesses, faith-based institutions and community organizations.

The City of Los Angeles is an important ally and partner in the fight to tackle homelessness.  However, if the Homeless Initiative is to be successful, it will require the full support of all 88 cities in the County– nothing less.

Academia can also play a pivotal role in searching for ways to best address homelessness.  The University of Southern California just launched an initiative to corral the experience and knowledge on its campus and within the community to provide tangible solutions within four years.

It is clear that focused and careful spending of taxpayer dollars to combat homelessness does work when coupled with clear requirements on outcomes and accountability.

The problem is scale. LAHSA estimates the cost of meeting the needs of the homeless is about $450 million each year, not counting construction. The Board has set aside $100 million – a good start, but not nearly enough.

The crisis already exacts a steep price on taxpayers, in terms of law enforcement and social services.  Providing housing for the homeless enables taxpayer dollars to be spent more effectively.

In the past, voters have stepped up to approve ballot measures to pay for community essentials. Recent polling by the County indicates that voters now rank homelessness as their second-highest concern behind jobs and the economy. A survey by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs found that 6 in 10 County residents consider the lack of affordable housing for low-income families a very serious problem, and that many County residents are worried about going hungry or becoming homeless themselves.

Now is the time to commit resources that match the magnitude of the problem, and make a bold, concerted effort to end homelessness in Los Angeles County.




Homelessness Summit

IMG_0073Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas laid out his “Vision for Action” at a summit on homelessness conducted by the University of Southern California.

“I will repeat what I have said before: Homelessness is the defining civic issue in the County of Los Angeles, and we need to confront it,” he said during a panel discussion. “We are facing a moral crisis, and a moral crisis demands a moral solution.”

“Instead of averting our eyes, we must see it and know it, and then we must move to address it and overcome it,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “We are doing many things right, but we are not doing enough of it. The fact of the matter is we have to radically scale up all our approaches.”

In February, the Board of Supervisors approved 47 strategies to address homelessness and set aside $100 million to implement it. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas called the amount a good start, but not enough.

The County recently conducted a poll to determine whether voters would support a November ballot initiative to raise additional funds. Its results, released over the weekend, showed 76 percent of voters would approve an income tax on people making over a million dollars, while 68 percent would back a sales tax.

“What the poll results show is that voters are willing to work in coordination with the County to improve their neighborhoods and help their neighbors,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Voters understand that stronger communities and improved lives in the future depend on investments today.”

“We at the Board of Supervisors are working diligently to scale up the County’s response but we could not do it without you,” he told the crowd at the summit. “It will take all of us – public and private sectors, and the community – equally yoked together and working together to create a Los Angeles where homelessness is rare and brief.”

USC President C.L. Max Nikias said, “We believe that solutions can only come through close cooperation between academia, government and non-profits across Los Angeles and the surrounding area. It’s an issue that concerns and affects us all, and USC will not be a bystander.”

USC launched the summit on homelessness to engage policymakers, public and private sector leaders, and its own faculty and staff in coming up with ideas to address what Provost Michael Quick calls a “wicked problem.” The summit will provide the basis for more intensive discussion at the Provost’s annual retreat in June 2016, and establish a framework for goals to be achieved by the USC Homeless Initiative over the next two to three years.

A series of panels tackled the current scope of the crisis and initiatives underway to address it; the dire need for supportive services and affordable housing; business and technology solutions; and the role that universities can play in the solution. Panelists included Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price, and United Way of Greater of Los Angeles President and CEO Elise Buik.