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How LA County is working to prevent homelessness

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A homeless man pushes his cart of belongings along a street in Los Angeles, California on February 9, 2016.
A homeless man pushes his cart of belongings along a street in Los Angeles, California on February 9, 2016.

Lawmakers in LA are ramping up their fight against homelessness by looking at ways to prevent it and not allowing people to be put out on the street in the first place.

After years of struggling, officials in Los Angeles County now have some serious cash to begin tackling homelessness. That's thanks to voters who passed a sales tax increase to fund new programs to provide housing for people who find themselves living on the street.

But the county is also trying something new. They are looking for ways to nip the problem in the bud - and actually, try to PREVENT homelessness

What does that mean, and how does the country plan to go about doing it? KPCC's Rina Palta has been looking into this. 

Why is the county looking at prevention now?

"You hear the number 47,000 a lot. That's our official homeless count in Los Angeles county. But really that's the estimated number of people who are homeless on the street or in a shelter on any given night in the county. 

If you're looking at the span of a whole year, the number of people who might be homeless for say a week or two, then find a friend's couch to crash on or a motel to stay in, that population is a lot larger. 

So, what you don't want is those people who are kind of always on the verge of becoming this permanent homeless class... to fall into homelessness permanently. So, what we've seen in Los Angeles is that it is growing. This population of people who are economically distressed, ending up out on the streets, is growing.

County leaders are looking now to see, 'How do we cut off this influx into homelessness?' We're trying to get everyone currently on this streets housed. Let's make sure we're not just replacing them with new people."

Measure H passed. It's a quarter-cent sales tax hike that kicks in in July and that's supposed to raise about $355 million dollars a year. How much of that will go towards prevention?

"The county has proposed spending about $42 million dollars over the first three years of Measure H on prevention. There's no final consensus on how to spend those dollars yet, but that's the amount they're currently discussing."

What do you know about what the county plans to do with that money?

"There's a lot of different things. There's legal advice for a family that's about to be evicted, that could help. There are quick cash infusions to get people through a rough patch paying their rent. Or there are things like moving expenses, security deposits for people who could become homeless without that kind of help.

There's also another kind of prevention that's not included in that dollar figure that the county is also looking to invest in, and that's increasing incomes. There are proposals to set aside Measure H money for outreach to make sure people who qualify are signed up for cash benefits like disability and veterans aid. The idea is that if people have sustained income, they're less likely to become homeless."

To listen to the full segment, click the blue play button above. 

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