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City Council approves homeless initiative

The Los Angeles City Council this week approved a plan aimed at vastly expanding the city’s efforts to end homelessness, primarily by hiring more outreach workers, offering housing vouchers and building permanent housing for the tens of thousands of people living on the streets of Los Angeles.

The plan, which could cost $1.87 billion over the next decade, also details ways the city and other officials can step in to prevent people who are at risk from becoming homeless.

The vote came shortly before the county Board of Supervisors approved an anti-homelessness plan of its own, initially committing $100 million in funding. The first phase of the county’s effort, estimated to cost $42 million over 12 months, includes housing subsidies, job programs and 24-hour emergency shelters to serve as a bridge to permanent supportive housing.

The county’s plan includes 47 strategies covering six goals, which are to prevent homelessness, subsidize housing costs, increase income, provide case management and services, create a coordinated system for homeless services and increase affordable housing.

The county’s plan also calls on cities to subsidize housing costs, create policies that encourage more affordable housing to be built and improve the way police and other public safety officers interact with the homeless.

For example, under the county homeless initiative, cities interested in helping with rent subsidies, under a program known as rapid re-housing, would pay $500 per month for each household receiving the assistance, while the county would match that cost.

For the city of Los Angeles, which has more than half of the estimated 44,000 homeless people in the county, the strategic plan lays out options for the use of about $100 million in city funds in the upcoming year, potentially reaching the $1.87 billion mark over the next 10 years.

“Our plan is in coordination and complementary to their (the county’s) plan, so we think the people of Southern California are getting the best bang for their buck towards solving this part of the problem,” said Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who co-chairs the council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee.

City leaders, including Mayor Eric Garcetti and several City Council members, announced plans last year to dedicate about $100 million in city general funds toward homelessness.

Councilman Jose Huizar, who co-chairs the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, acknowledged that similar calls-to-action by past city leaders have come and gone without result, but “what’s different today and the direction that we are going is that we are turning from being reactive to proactive in, setting the policy direction” for the city’s efforts on homelessness.

The city of Los Angeles has typically acted to help the homeless, when there are court orders or lawsuits, and tends to turn to law enforcement to interact with the homeless, according to Huizar.

He said the plan will keep the city on track, even through changes in city leadership, by laying out goals for the city to reach.

“The benchmarks are in there for the public to hold us accountable,” Huizar said.

Council members also noted that the plan is only the first step, and that it still needs to be backed with funding, either through the general fund or a possible ballot measure in November.

“If solving homelessness is a marathon, all we’ve done today is fill out the registration form,” said Councilman Mike Bonin.

Harris-Dawson said earlier this week that the plan also represents “unprecedented level of focus and commitment of getting to zero homelessness.”

Huizar has noted that with the plan adopted, “the real test” will be in how the city will come up with the $100 million, which may require that other city expenses be scaled back.

“The real critical piece is going to come when we discuss the budget for the next fiscal year and put some money behind the recommendations,” he said earlier this week.

Garcetti, who is expected to release his budget proposal in April, praised the council’s approval of the plan, which he said “puts us on the path to adding more outreach workers on our streets, putting more affordable housing in our neighborhoods and providing more supportive services to our most vulnerable residents.”

“The thousands of men, women, and children who live on our streets are not disposable. It is our moral imperative to help them,” he said. “As your mayor and a lifelong Angeleno, I am proud to be a part of the unprecedented collaboration that made this possible, and I stand committed to prioritizing this issue.”

Huizar has said the upcoming budget discussions will present an opportunity to change the amount the city spends on enforcement of laws that directly affect people living on the streets.

One of those laws—the much-debated city ordinance 56.11, that makes it easier for the city to remove items from streets and dismantle encampments—was not part of today’s vote, and will likely be reviewed by the Homelessness and Poverty Committee later this month or in early March.

Some advocates for the homeless who live in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles have criticized the city’s strategic plan as failing to address the enforcement of such laws.

Eric Ares, a community organizer with Los Angeles Community Action Network, said there are no guidelines for how police officers should interpret such laws in the 200-plus pages of the city strategic plan, which includes one page devoted to the role of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Ares said the issue of enforcement should not be a separate conversation from that of the strategic plan, adding that he feels city officials were “very, very intentional about trying to talk about them (homelessness and enforcement) separately,” Ares said.

Ares said a detailed plan for enforcement should be added to the strategic plan, noting that negative encounters with police officers, who often accompany service providers, deter many who are homeless from taking advantage of services.

Criminal records or citations may also make it more difficult for the homeless to qualify for certain services, Ares said.