Homelessness is a problem in major cities across the country, but it is especially so in large cities like Los Angeles. The City and County of Los Angeles, and their voters, have taken steps to combat the problem.
Defining the problem
The 2017 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count found a total of 57,794 homeless people, 74 percent of whom were unsheltered. It found 253 unaccompanied minors (75 percent unsheltered) and 5,117 children in families (17 percent unsheltered). The count identified 9,285 people with substance abuse issues (90 percent unsheltered), 15,728 people with serious mental illness (90 percent unsheltered) and 17,945 people who had experienced domestic or intimate partner violence (88 percent unsheltered). Some people belonged to more than one of these last three groups. It identified 17,794 people as being chronically homeless (91 percent unsheltered).
The homeless in Los Angeles became more visible when the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in 2006 that enforcement of Los Angeles’s ordinance against camping out on city streets was unconstitutional unless the city had enough shelter beds available to accommodate its homeless population. While this ruling is no longer in effect, it continues to deter cities from enforcing similar laws.
The resulting tent cities that have sprung up around the West have brought their own problems. The lack of sanitation facilities has resulted in streets littered with human waste. Hepatitis A outbreaks have been recorded in San Diego, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles. The outbreak in San Diego sickened over 500 people and killed 19.
Los Angeles has a plan
In response to the homelessness problem, in February, 2016, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved an action plan for addressing homelessness. It identified 47 strategies to pursue and grouped them into 6 areas. The areas are prevention, subsidized housing, increase income, case management and services, coordinated system and affordable housing.
In November, 2016, the voters of the City of Los Angeles approved a $1.2 billion bond measure to provide for the construction of supportive and affordable housing. Supportive housing includes on-site services like case managers and physical and mental health care. The measure is expected to result in the construction of 10,000 housing units over 10 years.
In March, 2017, the voters of the County of Los Angeles approved Measure H, a ¼ percent sales tax increase to combat homelessness. The tax is expected to raise $355 million annually. Some of the proceeds provide funding for initiatives defined in the February, 2016 plan. Measure H also added 4 new initiatives, bringing the total to 51.
Many of the strategies being pursued leverage existing programs, both local and federal. Others provide supportive services to prevent people from becoming homeless or to get them quickly back into housing. Measure H funds are expected to result in more than 1000 new jobs with homeless services providers.
Measuring the results
A new count of the homeless in Los Angeles took place at the end of January, 2018, although the results have not yet been released. With sales tax collections only starting in July, 2017, it is too soon to expect to see much impact from the new funding. However, we will keep an eye on Los Angeles’ progress to see if their plan can be a model for the nation in addressing homelessness.