On March 7, Los Angeles County voters will cast ballots on Measure H, an initiative that amounts to a simple one-quarter percent sales-tax increase to fund homeless relief.
But behind that simple yes/no proposition is a dizzying array of homeless-related data and strategies that the county is only beginning to explain — through a website dedicated to the Measure H issue, and through a series of media reach-outs, among other tactics.
On Wednesday, Gerry Ramirez, principal analyst for the county who is now attached to the Office of Homeless Initiative, held one such media outreach session with The Signal, outlining a vast and still-evolving 51-strategy plan that the Board of Supervisors hopes to enact if two-thirds of the voters say yes to Measure H.
The measure would raise an estimated $355 million a year, targeted specifically toward homeless issues, on top of the approximately $100 million the county has already budgeted to battle homelessness.
Passage would keep that quarter-percent sales-tax hike on the books for 10 years, with any extensions having to go before voters again.
Ramirez’s informational session – and he stressed it was informational only, not done to advocate for the measure – comes in the wake of the Board of Supervisors’ vote in December declaring a homeless state of emergency in the county.
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), 46,874 people were homeless during a January 2016, one-day snapshot survey in L.A. County.
“However,’’ Ramirez said, “over the course of a year, we estimate as many as three times that many experience homelessness.”
The January 2017 annual homeless count was conducted only last week, and its findings are not yet available.
Locally, in last year’s LAHSA’s “Service Planning Area 2” report – which includes the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys – the “Point In Time” survey showed 7,094 homeless in 2016, up 36 percent from the 2015 tally of 5,216.
In Santa Clarita specifically, the LAHSA numbers were 316 in 2016, and 298 in 2015.
Now comes Measure H, whose place on the ballot was passed by the supervisors unanimously in December.
If passed in March, the measure would fund a coordinated set of strategies that would bring in cities, businesses, faith groups and non-profits.
According to the Office of Homeless Initiative, the plan’s 51 strategies (only 21 of which would require funding, Ramirez said) would focus on six specific areas, including: ways to prevent new homelessness; subsidizing housing; increasing income (through programs such as job training); providing case-management and services; creating a coordinated system; and increasing affordable housing/homeless housing.
“One of the things that’s lacking is affordable housing,” Ramirez said, pointing to just one of the many and complicated causes of the crisis.
The strategies would also look to fill what the Office of Homeless Initiative targeted as four specific “gaps” between facilities and services that are needed, and those that are now available.
Among those gaps: providing permanent supportive housing (the county is short an estimated 15,000-plus units, Ramirez’s data show); providing “rapid rehousing” for those in need of emergency assistance (about 8,300 more units are needed); providing more emergency shelters; and providing programs to avoid homelessness in the first place.
The strategies outlined by the county also address issues of mental illness and addiction.
“The growing homeless crisis is disrupting nearly every community in the county — compromising public health and safety and hurting local businesses,’’ says an argument in favor of Measure H that was filed with the county Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk.
Support was signed by a cross-section of county leaders, including District Attorney Jackie Lacey; Elise Buik of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles; Mary Leslie of the Los Angeles Business Council; Yvette J. Kelley of New Directions for Veterans; and Alex Johnson of the Children’s Defense Fund of California.
According to the County Clerk’s office, no arguments have been filed against Measure H.
Measure H will be the only item on the ballot in Santa Clarita.
The Signal will be covering various aspects of the in the run-up to the March 7 vote. For more information, go to https://homeless.lacounty.gov/