5 things to know about LA's big homelessness fix
For months, Los Angeles County leaders have been developing a strategy to address the region's homelessness problem. On Tuesday, members of the L.A. City Council and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted to set their plans in motion.
The numbers are bleak: more than 44,000 people are homeless in L.A. County. Of that, about 30,000 are unsheltered — living in tents, cars and makeshift shelters.
Officials have called it a "state of emergency." They've pledged to find the money to address the problem. They've produced studies to better understand what it will take, and they've asked the public to weigh in.
Here are a few things that stand out in the plans:
1. Prevention is a priority.
Both the county plan and the city plan stress the importance of preventing new people from becoming homeless. To do this, they want to increase the number of apartments in the city and designate more of them as "affordable," meaning they'd have rents below market value. The city and county also want to better coordinate their departments so that a newly homeless person is quickly identified, assessed and connected with the services they need to get on their feet.
2. They're embracing the Housing First model.
There has long been a debate about whether homeless people are "ready" to be successful in housing, and if they've earned it. Some have argued that people with drug problems or mental illnesses should be treated for those issues before they are offered anything more than a shelter bed. Others support the "Housing First" model, which argues that a person can not overcome drug dependency or mental illness until they have a safe, reliable home. The city and county have come to support "Housing First" and will put more dollars behind it.
3. The money's still not there.
The county has already found about $100 million to put toward combatting homelessness in year one, but the city is still in search of their first $100 million. A city report recently found that the City of L.A. alone needs to spend $1.85 billion over 10 years to provide enough housing and services to properly address homelessness. L.A. officials have said they'll need to find federal, state and county money to help them get there.
4. These plans are just blueprints.
The city's plan identifies 14 priorities to reduce homelessness. Among them: giving city staff more resources and training so that their interactions with the homeless population is more positive and impactful. Another one is creating a Homelessness Coordinator position to oversee the city's progress. The "Housing First" model (explained above) is yet another priority. Each one of these goals will move forward on its own timeline, in incremental steps, requiring its own budget and council approval. In other words, this overall strategy is not one big cruise liner charging through the sea. Rather, it's 14 different boats, going at their own speeds.
The county's plan has 47 different goals. They expect 11 of them to be implemented by July. But other initiatives will take longer. Take, for example, Rapid Re-Housing, which calls for moving homeless people out of tents and shelters and into short-term apartments. The county wants to help fund Rapid Re-Housing, by collaborating with local cities. Which leads us to...
5. Coordination is the name of the game.
It's no surprise that the city and county are voting on their plans on the same day. These two large-scale strategies have been coordinated together and echo many of the same priorities. The city's plan calls for collaboration with the county. The county's plan acknowledges the role it has in helping cities, especially Los Angeles. It even proposes a gathering of sorts — a homelessness "summit" — for all 88 cities in L.A. County to attend in 2016.
This story has been updated.