The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last week declared homelessness an emergency and placed a measure on the March 7 ballot to increase funding for homeless services.
The ballot measure will ask voters to increase the countywide sales tax by a quarter cent, bring it to 9.75 percent in most areas. The measure comes after voters approved a half-cent sales tax for transportation projects in the November election, as well as Measure HHH, a city of Los Angeles measure that will raise bond funding to build permanent supportive housing for homeless individuals.
The county’s measure will augment Measure HHH by raising funding for homeless services. While Measure HHH will fund spaces for people to live, “wraparound” services are necessary to keep people on the right track in re-integrating into society, said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, 3rd District.
“I think people are pretty well aware how dire the need is for homeless services of all kinds,” Kuehl said. “The voters of Los Angeles already voted for Measure HHH and said, ‘let’s build 10,000 new units of housing.’ But there is a need for money for services. Housing is only one part of the equation. We must provide services so people can take care of themselves a little better.”
The measure is expected to raise upwards of $350 million per year for homeless services. The county estimates it needs approximately $450 million to adequately address the crisis. The additional funding would come from sources already identified in the county budget.
The funding would be used for healthcare and mental health services, counseling and case management. Agencies that work with homeless are backing the measure, including People Assisting the Homeless (PATH).
“We are definitely supporting it,” said Joel Roberts, CEO of PATH. “The county sales tax will provide funding for people moving into permanent supportive housing buildings. It’s important that we provide mental health services, substance abuse services and case management. We can’t dangle the keys in front of a homeless person and say, ‘we’re done.’ These services will help people stay in housing.”
Roberts added that without a sales tax increase, the services will not be funded. More than 43,000 people are homeless on the streets of Los Angeles, according to statistics from a 2016 count conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Without new funding, the county will have to look for other ways to help solve the homeless crisis, he added.
Kuehl believes voters understand the extent of the homeless crisis and will support the measure.
“I think what voters are saying is we will shoulder the responsibilities for things that need to be done,” Kuehl said. “I am optimistic. We have a very specific plan on how to provide services. The county is putting in $150 million every year. We are not only doing it with new money.”
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