On March 7, residents of Los Angeles County will vote on a radical initiative to combat homelessness. If passed, Measure H would raise $355 million each year for the next 10 years through a one-quarter cent sales tax increase.
Many of my fellow conservative and Republican friends fervently oppose Measure H on principle. It is another tax increase for another bloated government program.
Or is it?
This is a topic I personally wrestle with. My dad was a United States Marine and a world-class hydrogeologist until he began to drink and was consumed by his inner demons. He wound up virtually homeless and forgotten.
I saw the end result of his inner pain and mental illness – cirrhosis of the liver and an early death at age 69. Not to mention a broken marriage and a child he saw once in his final 10 years of life.
I have written in the past about homelessness and the effect of a well-intentioned but ultimately misguided program in Santa Barbara that left the community overwhelmed and inundated by homeless folks.
I have stated that we need a comprehensive approach to homelessness and not a single community attempt at resolving a nearly intractable problem. Now, along comes the county with a plan.
With great excitement, I reviewed the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative Report (February 2016) that lays out the program to be financed by Measure H.
The initiative has some specifics but is mostly a set of generalized plans and ideas. The “Potential Performance Metrics” outlined for each strategy are unfocused and vague. I wanted to see something like “new homeless clients reduced by 5 percent for each year of the program.” Not here.
I spoke to a homeless advocate and told her that the initiative should be working to put itself out of business. I see nothing to indicate this thinking is contained in the plan.
There is also some brutally leftist political verbiage in the program. Proponents hope to increase homeless voter registration and participation. Forgive me, but if the primary concern is finding another meal and a warm place to sleep, the last thing of concern is electing Antonio Villaraigosa to the governor’s office.
The “Criminal Record Clearing Project” reminds me of Orwell’s 1984 Ministry of Truth that reinvents history as the regime sees fit. Sorry, liberals. A criminal record sticks with you always.
But then I started to think. I said that I wanted a comprehensive plan that deals with homelessness across a wide area and many communities. Here it is. This plan coordinates the myriad programs and agencies into something resembling a consistent countywide approach.
I wanted a program that deals with the causes of homelessness such as mental health and substance abuse. The plan contains provisions for these things. It also seeks to deal with homeless veterans.
I’m sorry, my fellow conservatives. The fact that a single veteran is homeless on the street is a national embarrassment. These men and women served us. We must serve them. Get them off the street and give them the help they need.
There are many families that find themselves in economically difficult situations through loss of jobs or other unforeseen circumstances. This program supports rapid housing initiatives to make sure a family does not end up on the street.
This program also creates enhanced data sharing and tracking. We had an experience a few years ago with a homeless girl whom we allowed into our home.
We found out later that she had an extensive criminal background and a history of taking advantage of host families. If we had known, we never would have allowed her in. Agencies need to be able to share info to coordinate services and keep volunteers safe from potentially dangerous people.
“Increasing income” sounds suspiciously like merely pushing up the minimum wage. But part of the program involves increasing an hourly wage by 2 dollars per hour for work performed. This is in exchange for a housing subsidy of the same amount.
People working is better than people getting something for free.
If you ride the train from Santa Clarita to Union Station, you will see a tiny portion of the homeless disaster that is now upon our communities. Each underpass has large encampments of homeless.
We have to do something. Measure H is highly imperfect – it has many flaws that seem to be more left-wing political claptrap than anything else.
But I am willing to try. Let’s give Measure H serious consideration as a step in the right direction to combat homelessness.
Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita and a Ronnie Reagan Republican. Even after he wrote this column. He can be reached at [email protected]