The $9.9 billion Los Angeles budget approved by the City Council on Monday earmarks nearly half a billion dollars for homeless services, including new housing, shelters, outreach services and sanitation teams.
Councilman Paul Krekorian, budget chair, said Tuesday that the Mayor’s Office developed the initial budget before it was passed on to the council. The mayor’s proposed budget included $430 million to address homelessness this fiscal year, 2018-19, which is two and a half times more than the budget for the current fiscal year. That increase was enabled in large part because of revenues from Measure HHH, approved by voters to allocate more funds to brick-and-mortar programs for homeless people, he said.
“The broader revenue landscape of the city is improved, and so there’s more potential to fund homeless services with General Fund dollars beyond HHH,” Krekorian said. “So the mayor, to his great credit, emphasized this as a high priority, allocated appropriate resources to addressing the challenge with urgency, and presented that to us. And then the council added an additional $10 million to that amount so it’s now up to $440 million."
Of the $440 million set aside for homeless services, $275 million comes from Measure HHH funds. The budget includes $238 million to build 1,500 new housing units (permanent supportive housing and affordable housing); $36 million for facilities, including shelters; and $39 million for outreach services and sanitation teams.
There’s a $20 million crisis and bridge housing fund, and an additional $10 million for shelters and homeless services. An unspecified amount will go to expand domestic violence shelters, adding 60 to 70 new beds and serving 400 people each year, according to the budget.
In February, L.A. Weekly reported that the number of people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County was increasing faster than housing could be built, while the number of homeless people arrested for minor offenses has increased since 2011 from 1-in-10 to 1-in-6. As of 2017, as many as 49,000 people were homeless in the county.
Krekorian said the proposed $440 million for homeless services got the most public comment of all the budget items. Reassuringly, he said, nobody was calling for less money to be spent. Instead, the debate was over how the funds should be allocated.
“Some people might put a greater emphasis on supportive housing,” he said. “Some people might put a greater emphasis on shelter, others on cleanup and law enforcement. That’s the natural order of things when we do any budget.”
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Jennifer Hark-Dietz, deputy chief executive officer and executive director of the PATH shelter in L.A., said that they have had staff at council meetings while the budget was being ironed out.
“We definitely believe this is a big step in the right direction to fund permanent and bridge housing for individuals experiencing homelessness,” Hark-Dietz said.
Ultimately, the big question will be how much is this significant amount of money going to help. Will lives be drastically improved? Krekorian said that time will tell, while pointing out that health care, such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, is under the jurisdiction of L.A. County. Measure H, which was passed to complement Measure HHH and provide ongoing wrap-around services, will help tackle this.
“That’s what I wrestle with all the time,” Krekorian said. “I think that with this substantial of an investment that we’re making this year, and the entire range of services that are important to the homeless population and to the neighborhoods that are impacted by the homeless, we’ll have a much better idea at the end of this year of what has worked well, what has worked less well, what’s cost-effective and what’s just too expensive.”