Addressing Homelessness with Compassionate and Innovative Strategies

In a county as prosperous as Los Angeles, and a state as wealthy as California, homelessness is a moral crisis – a moral crisis that will define our civic legacy in the eyes of future generations.

Almost a year ago today, on March 7, 2017, the County of Los Angeles celebrated the historic passage of Measure H. The voters of this County dug deep into their hearts and their wallets, and decided to tax themselves in order to help their fellow brothers and sisters who did not have homes.

Many of you recognize the sustained effort it took to achieve that landmark collective victory in March 2017 – during an off-cycle election. Not since 1902 had there even been an attempt to place a revenue enhancement measure on the March ballot – that’s how bold the idea was! So how did we get here?

As you approach downtown, the skyline provides a stark illustration of the income and wealth gap in our region. Mere steps away from dozens of cranes looming above the gleaming towers of downtown, we find human beings living in utter squalor, subjected to unspeakable living situations. This jarring juxtaposition is visible in every corner of the County.

But a crisis can also be a turning point.

National Alliance to End Homelessness. All photos by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

In May 2015, when the Homeless Point-In-Time Count showed an uptick and, in particular, an uptick in street encampments, I knew that the status quo had to be changed radically.

In August 2015, the Board of Supervisors and LA County officially declared homelessness to be one of its top priorities. LA County then established the Homeless Initiative, and embarked on a series of 18 policy summits and public hearings.

In February 2016, this process culminated in a comprehensive action plan, crafted in partnership with community stakeholders. The County devoted $100M in one-time funds to implement the community action plan – but I strongly felt that we had a pact with the community to find ongoing funds to implement the strategies in the years to come.

The time was right because poll after poll showed that homelessness trumped every other issue – it was more top of mind than traffic, than public safety, than education.

The County explored a variety of revenue options – Millionaire’s tax, General sales tax, Parcel tax, and Marijuana business tax. After a process of elimination, we landed on a quarter-cent special sales tax, and we called it Measure H.

Measure H passed resoundingly in March with 70% of the vote. Measure H will provide $355M a year for 10 years and allow us to scale up compassionate and innovative strategies.

In June 2017, the Board of Supervisors endorsed the consensus recommendations of the 50-member committee of stakeholders. The 5-member Citizens’ Oversight Board, which will monitor Measure H expenditures, met twice in 2017 and will meet again on March 8, 2018. Their task is accountability.

We only started to collect the tax on October 1, 2017, but, as you can see, the County was already hard at work. Measure H is expanding funding for Multi-Disciplinary Teams that consist of nurses, mental health clinicians, substance use counselors, and people with lived experience.

These street engagement teams are working together to canvass LA County’s 4,000 square miles, provide daily engagement and access to County services and housing.

From July to December 2017, these street teams have linked almost 3,000 people to essential services.

In addition:

  • 441 have agreed to come indoors to crisis/bridge housing;
  • Almost 400 are in the housing search process; and
  • Almost 100 have moved into supportive housing.

Along with the expansion of street teams, we are ramping up our supply of 24/7 enhanced interim housing options. We are funding more recuperative care beds, substance use detox beds, and alternatives to incarceration. Finally, we are creating more affordable permanent housing options for those exiting from interim housing.

This quarter, the County will approve capital funding for over 1,300 units of affordable and special needs housing. And we are working on ordinances to streamline and accelerate the development of more affordable and supportive housing.

We are coupling new housing with Measure H-funded support services.

In August 2017, the County partnered with the 17 Housing Authorities in our region to craft joint commitments to set aside tenant-based housing vouchers matched with intensive services. In December, we signed a Joint MOU with the City of LA to commit Measure H-funded supportive services for the 10,000 supportive housing units being built through the LA City bond measure, Proposition HHH.

From July to December 2017, almost 1,300 tenants of new supportive housing have been linked to intensive services. We are not only building housing, we are rebuilding lives!

The County is funding financial incentives for landlords to encourage homeowners to rent their units to homeless people. It is also expediting the construction and rehabilitation of second dwelling units in people’s backyards, and helping homeowners rent those units to homeless people. These are just some of many tools in the County’s Measure H toolbox to activate true partnerships with private stakeholders.

The hard task of implementation is underway, with the nonprofits recruiting, hiring and training over 1,000 positions to expand services and “right-size” our regional system.

As we sit here today, there are approximately 58,000 men, women and children who will struggle to find a place tonight. Two-thirds of our homeless neighbors are “unsheltered” – sleeping at night in cars, tents, makeshift shelters and other places not meant for human habitation.

At this conference, you will hear about some of the challenges but, more importantly, you will hear about some of the solutions. We believe that this crisis can be resolved but it will take all of us working together.

As we move through implementation of Measure H, we have to keep our public, and each other, engaged and informed. This is why on March 9th, United Way will launch Everyone In.

Over the next 10 years, the Everyone In campaign will engage people across Los Angeles County to join together in creating better lives for all who are experiencing homelessness. Our collective pursuit should be to create opportunities so that anyone who calls LA County home is able to live a life of dignity and purpose.

Our homeless neighbors are depending on us – so let’s get to work. I’m in! Are you in? Everyone In!