We’re generally a no-more-taxes institution, and with Measure H on the March ballot we see yet another tax – yet another way to take money away from people who have worked hard for their success and pass it to a government agency to squander on bureaucracy and perhaps do some good for people who have been less successful in life.
But there’s something compelling about Measure H, the proposed quarter-cent sales tax hike that would cost us little as individuals but generate enormous amounts of money to tackle the daunting problem of homelessness in Los Angeles County.
It is a problem that didn’t exist in the early to mid-20th century, when the state funded mental hospitals and took in the mentally ill whether they wanted to be cared for or not; when the county funded a “poor farm” where Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Center now stands, housing the indigent of that period; when anti-loitering laws were enforced and communities didn’t tolerate people living on their streets.
County statistics show homelessness has skyrocketed over the last few years. And Measure H is a remarkable joint effort between Los Angeles County and the city of Los Angeles, whose voters have already approved Measure HHH to build housing for the homeless.
The county’s Measure H would fund services needed to get those temporarily housed by the city trained out of their destructive ways so they can avoid landing on the streets again in a self-destructive cycle.
The county’s role is a social program on steroids; Measure H would generate an estimated $355 million a year for 10 years to extend homeless services throughout the county. There’s no doubt it would increase county social services staff.
And yes, it would also add a new bureaucracy – has already done so, to be precise, on some $100 million seed money previously allocated by county supervisors. The vote March 7 would extend the start-up program 10 years. For Santa Clarita Valley voters, the Homeless Initiative is the only item on the ballot.
Measure H would also build bridges across many county social service gaps that have existed, shamefully, for years.
If you doubt the need, take a drive through downtown Los Angeles and you’ll agree the situation is an emergency. And more people are becoming homeless every day.
Even in the Santa Clarita Valley, take a walk through a park or go visit the Newhall Library and you’re likely to encounter homeless. Our comfortable suburbia doesn’t insulate us.
In the early and mid-20th century the government dealt with problems of mental illness and homelessness, and we paid for it with our taxes. But later such heavy-handed tactics as mandatory mental health hospitalization and anti-loitering and “poor farm” laws were declared unconstitutional.
Thus the policies of the 1960s and later de-funded free mental health and homeless housing, leaving those figurative cans to be kicked down the road until the situation could no longer be ignored.
Now the level of homelessness is intolerable. Quality of life for those who don’t live in the streets is being compromised.
If we as taxpayers won’t take back at least some financial responsibility for the situation, that slide in quality of life – for all of us – will continue.
Critics of Measure H can point out problems: Its attempt at providing public oversight is inadequate. It arguably should extend for only five years. It offers few details about how sales tax hike monies would be spent.
It’s a brave new experiment in government cooperation drawn up by a consortium of service providers, regional governments and agencies, and nonprofits to jointly attack a problem on multiple fronts and region-wide.
That alone we find hopeful.
With Measure H we have a plan in hand that’s evolved from more than a year of research and collaboration by a collection of people and groups that want to make a difference in homelessness. It’s complicated; it requires from us a bit of an act of faith in people with high goals and a great deal of determination. It asks of us just pennies or less each day.
We believe we have to take action on this issue, and we urge a vote of “yes” on Measure H.
We also call on the city, as the third largest in Los Angeles County, to take an active role in the county Homeless Initiative that Measure H would fund to ensure Santa Clarita Valley homeless reap maximum returns.
City Council, let’s make the ad hoc homeless committee a permanent committee on the council.