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LA to spend some $737 million to combat homelessness next year

JANUARY 18: A man who goes by the name 'Pepper' pushes his cart along concrete banks of the Los Angeles River on January 18, 2006 in Los Angles, California. Pepper says he began a life of roaming after his father, a member of the Klu Klux Klan (KKK), kicked him out of the house for bringing home a Native American bride from the Blackfoot tribe. A recent comprehensive census and survey of homelessness in Los Angeles County by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development found 88,345 homeless people in the city and surrounding communities, far exceeding any other county in the nation, or the five boroughs of New York which by contrast have only 48,155 homeless people. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
David McNew/Getty Images
The county and city's push to end homelessness in L.A. will cost about $737 million in its first year.

The city and county of Los Angeles are poised to make a $737 million investment in fighting homelessness in the coming fiscal year.

Phil Ansell, director of L.A. County's homeless initiative, called the coming commitment "unprecedented."

"The public demands it," said Chris Ko, director of homeless initiatives for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles. "I think people have seen that investments work and people have also seen homelessness coming into their communities, and they want a visible difference."

The boost in dollars comes almost entirely from two voter-approved initiatives, Measure H, a county sales tax hike passed in March, and Proposition HHH, a city bond measure passed last November. Together, they're expected to account for about $444 million in revenue in the coming fiscal year.

In addition, Mayor Eric Garcetti has proposed spending $87 million in other funds to "house the unsheltered, connect them with services, and keep our communities safe and clean." 

L.A. County spent about $86 million on homelessness services last year, according to a report released Friday by the county's Chief Executive Office. County leaders have pledged to not supplant any county spending with Measure H dollars. 

On top of that, the L.A. Homeless Services Authority receives about $120 million in federal and state funds annually. 

The new spending is expected to make a large dent in L.A. County's homeless population. L.A. has the most unsheltered homeless in the country, with about 33,000 people living in tents, makeshift shelters and vehicles around the county. An additional 11,000 live in homeless shelters and other temporary homes, according to 2016's annual homeless count. 

Only New York City's homeless population is larger in raw numbers, with 59,000 in shelters and another few thousand on the streets, according to Isaac McGinn, press secretary for New York's Department of Homeless Services. 

Historically, New York City's financial commitment to homelessness has also been larger. This past year, between the Department of Homeless Services and the Human Resources Department, the city spent about $2 billion on homelessness, McGinn said. 

"The overwhelming majority goes to operating shelters," he said.

In New York, unlike Los Angeles, a verifiably homeless person has a right to a shelter spot or if there isn't room, space in a motel. 

Ko said the current plan in Los Angeles is to invest a portion of the new funds into temporary housing like shelters and not to build up the sort of massive shelter system New York has.

"We've seen how that approach has not actually curbed homelessness," Ko said. "Shelters are an important part of the way home, but we are just being very clear that they are not the equivalent of a home."

The specifics of how the city and county will spend the new funds are still up in the air to a degree. Proposition HHH was intended to fund 10,000 new units of permanent housing for the homeless over the next decade. A first round of projects goes to the LA city council for approval next month. 

Measure H, meanwhile, is meant for services. County officials have promised to use the expected $355 million in annual revenue to house 45,000 people in permanent homes in the next five years, and prevent another 30,000 from becoming homeless.

The details are being worked out by a 50-member panel which will submit a spending plan to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors for approval in June, weeks before the sales tax goes into effect. An online community meeting seeking public input on the plan is taking place Tuesday at 2pm.  Pre-registration is required.