Sleeping on the streets of downtown L.A.EXPAND
Sleeping on the streets of downtown L.A.
P.D. Johnson/Flickr

L.A. Is Already Behind on Housing the Homeless, and It's Just Getting Worse Despite New Funding

Though the money raised through Measures HHH and H is helping, the number of people experiencing homelessness is increasing faster than new permanent housing can be supplied, according to a new report by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

The report, billed as a roadmap for ending homelessness and released last week, states that while the $1.2 billion from Measure HHH and $355 million annually from Measure H will help Los Angeles County's homeless people over the next decade, more funds are going to be necessary to house the ever-growing numbers, as well as provide ongoing support.

Last year, there were 49,000 homeless people, county officials estimated. The results of this year's count will be released in the spring.

Measures HHH, passed in November 2016 with the aim of building more permanent supportive housing, and H, which was approved in March 2017 to add more money to the pot for additional shelter beds, studies, daycare and funds to cities, are clearly providing critically needed funds, says Tom Waldman, director of communications with LAHSA.

The sales tax for Measure H went into effect in October 2017, with $44 million raised in October and November. The bulk of that, $41.4 million, was sent to LAHSA to cover operating expenses and improved services, Waldman says. The numbers on the new report predate any rewards reaped. Rather, it is intended to be used as a guide to how best to spend the funds.

The current system, funded through June 2018, provides 17,131 individuals with supportive housing, when 38,406 need the housing — a proposed increase of 124 percent, the report says. There are 2,003 beds available in the Rapid Re-Housing program, but an astonishing 12,723 are necessary, a leap of 535 percent. Less transitional housing will be necessary, dropping 62 percent from 4,767 to 1,795, the report says.

Families with children will need 3,278 units of supportive housing, rather than the current 1,892. Also, 2,295 units in Rapid Re-Housing will be required rather than the current 1,288, according to the report.
“H and HHH certainly made inroads on the homelessness crisis,” Waldman says. “To get us to functional zero homelessness? No, and that was never promised. HHH over 10 years will build 10,000 units of affordable housing for people experiencing homelessness, and that’s certainly going to help. It was an extraordinary act of generosity on the part of the voters of Los Angeles to approve it.

"And then along came H five months later in March 2017, which allocated 355 million additional dollars for homelessness, and one of the things H will do is allow us to provide the wrap-around services that will help those people who are in permanent housing stay in permanent housing.”

Waldman says that a big challenge is that, if people have been living on the streets for years or if they have mental health issues, it can be hard for them to remain in housing. However, if there are people such as mental health professional and drug counselors on site, then it increases the chances that homeless people will stay in permanent housing, he says. 

“H will enable us to do a whole number of things: provide more mental health services, provide more services in terms of things like substance abuse, which is what lands a significant number of people experiencing homelessness on the street. It will help us increase shelter space,” Waldman says. “H also provides more funding for people who are in teams of two, in the street, engaging with people experiencing homelessness every day. One of the things that is a challenge is to talk to people experiencing homelessness and, over time, get them to see that it’s in their best interests not to be in the streets anymore.”

Still, as many as 34,000 people are homeless on any night in Los Angeles, and 10,000 units will be built thanks to HHH. More funding is needed and Waldman knows that, though he is unsure how it should be generated.

"I know that here are tremendously engaged elected officials who are pondering this right now as they have these numbers in front of them and want to do more,” he says. “We are in the midst of a situation that is recognized throughout the county as of the utmost urgency."

Waldman accepts that it can be a challenge to convince the public that permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness is something they want in their neighborhood, but he also points out that Measures H and HHH prove the people of L.A. want to help.

“There’s a recognition that it’s something that could happen to anybody in this environment, with the rental market the way it is in Los Angeles, the vacancy rate the way it is, the way the economy is going," he says.

“That creates a certain degree of empathy. I don’t know if in all cases people’s patience is limitless, but I do think there is an inclination among most people in the county to want to help. We go in with that attitude, and work with communities. That’s absolutely critical. You have to have that local support.”

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