HOW MUCH WILL LA PAY?--Last year, Mayor Eric Garcetti stood in Skid Row pledging to devote $100 million in city funds to the "war on homelessness." Months later, details on where the money was coming from or what it exactly it would be put towards still eluded the public. It was heartening that city officials recognized the growing homeless population and an imperative to act on it, but the solutions were not grounded or all-encompassing.
This week, the city of LA released a comprehensive report on what strategies and financial costs would be required to systematically wipe out homelessness in Los Angeles.
The report calls the City Council's pledge of $100 million in homeless funding an "important first step," but would have to be "magnified significantly" over the next ten years to actually fund the end of homelessness in Los Angeles.
According to the report, to fully tackle the homelessness epidemic in Los Angeles, some $1.85 billion would have to be spent over the course of a decade, reports the LA Times -- and that's a number that "primarily the price of building or leasing new housing units," but not the expanded services and workers to provide them the report also recommends.
Last year, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana and Chief Legislative Analyst Sharon Tso were put in charge of compiling the report that would act as a starting point for Los Angeles' first comprehensive plan to end homelessness in the city. The resulting document lays out several strategies officials believe will work in tandem to more effectively get people off the streets.
They offer the following as focal points for their plan:
The report praises and advocates for a strong adherence to the Housing First approach, saying it "works to remove barriers to housing upfront in order to encourage better health outcomes for chronically homeless individuals." The Housing First philosophy is just as it sounds, putting the individual in long-term housing as a first step, and then applying social assistance to contribute to self-sufficiency.
Expand Rapid Re-Housing
Rapid Re-Housing involves taking individuals and families that are homeless and giving them rent vouchers for a specific period of time in an effort to give them footing to get back into the private housing market. It is thought to be more successful with people who are not chronically homeless. (It's also been very effective for families with kids, early evidence shows.) The report calls for an expansion of the program to quickly reduce the number of lower needs cases in the city.
Offering More Shelters and Storage Facilities
One short term solution the report offers is an increase in shelters and modifications in the services they provide. Currently, Skid Row is the central hub for homeless, necessitating long and costly commutes for many. A greater number of shelters around the city would ease access to case workers, health and social services, as well as laundry and hygiene facilities and allow people to "easily connect to the services they need to manage their personal well being."
Also suggested is expanding a safe parking program for those living in RVs and the creation of a mobile shower program that would travel the city offering a chance to wash up as well as connection to case management.
Acknowledge the Demographics of the Homeless
The report recognizes the need to distinguish the different types of homeless individuals to more effectively cater to the unique needs of each group rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. The report breaks down the homeless population into four demographics: individuals, families, youths, and veterans. Different services can be targeted towards each subgroup to maximize their individual effectiveness.
City Council asked the City Administrative Officer (CAO) and Chief Legislative Analyst (CLA) to put an extra focus on homeless youth, LBGTQ homeless, as well as homeless individuals with pets that are often denied access to shelter due to the animal. People under these circumstances might require extra levels of service that fit their unique situation.
"No Wrong Door"/Coordinated Entry System
The "No Wrong Door" concept advocates that any city department that regularly comes in contact with the homeless could be equipped to connect those individuals with social, medical, or housing resources. Places like libraries and public parks would be used as access point to get people into social service programs.
Integrated into the "No Wrong Door" policy would be a Coordinated Entry System, a standardized entry into social services databases that would ensure "detailed and verifiable tracking of metrics at the level of the individual." Homeless data with this increased level of individual information will help the city better analyze the effectiveness of their programs.
Increased Accountability in Government
The report advocates for the creation of a "Homeless Strategy Committee" made up of the mayor, CAO, and CLA. In addition, the position of "Homeless Coordinator" would be created and filled with an expert in the field. The Coordinator would report to the CAO, acting as the point-person between City Hall and homeless services. The Homeless Coordinator would be in charge on enacting any city plans on homelessness.
In a move that might ruffle the feathers of NIMBYs all over town, the report stresses a need to revisit the land use policies of the city, citing a need for greater density. Part of the reason for the housing shortage has been city plans that skew towards lower density in the face of a growing population. The authors urge the city to analyze "existing residential and mixed-use zoning and land use capabilities citywide, creating new citywide residential zoning maps with greater density in areas most capable of supporting it." The report does recognize how controversial rezoning can be, so they make a note of suggesting city officials work with local communities to "reconcile these citywide maps with their existing local neighborhood plans."
Mayor Garcetti called the report "the blueprint we need to guide our decision-making process," but it remains to be seen how much of these plans will actually be enacted, as the price tag is certainly steep. Also unclear is what effect the proposed $1.8 billion in state funding for housing mentally-ill homeless people will have on the overall price. The report's authors suggest everything from state and federal grants to fees on real estate transactions to help foot the bill, but admit that funding might have to come from a bond or tax hike. Though Mayor Garcetti has talked a big talk about ending homelessness, proposing a tax hike might be a tough sell if he's running for mayor again in 2017.
At least one city official seems confident about public support for the plan. Councilman Mike Bonin told KPCC that he's "impatient" about enacting the plan, claiming constituents in his Westside district cite homelessness as a top concern, even higher than traffic. He added that "we have to do a lot of work to get those funding streams in place," but that "people are hungry for proposed solutions." Bonin thinks that if "folks really believe the city and county are working together," they would be open to funding such an expensive plan.
(Jeff Wattenhofer writes for Curbed LA, where this perspective was first posted.) Image via Tom Andrews / Curbed LA flickr pool. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 14 Issue 4
Pub: Jan 12, 2016