The homeless playing field has suddenly changed. Nine days ago, the deepest most of us got involved with homelessness was the occasional shock and bother of a ragged individual interrupting our suburban bliss for a shakedown outside some store.
Now, eight days since Measure H passed, you and I will pay a quarter-cent tax of every taxable dollar toward ending homelessness in Los Angeles County.
“It’s only a quarter of a cent,” backers assured. “It’s only $8 or $9 per person per year,” they persuaded.
Baloney! The Santa Clarita Valley is a hotbed of small and medium industry and a hotbed of retail businesses, with our consumers and businesses purchasing hundreds of millions – and perhaps billions – of taxable merchandise.
My own company will pay at least $500,000 in Measure H taxes over the sales tax’s proposed 10-year run. With reasonable confidence I can assess the SCV will send between $15 million and $20 million annually to the Measure H apparatus for distribution to help homeless.
The SCV has serious, serious skin in this quarter-of-a-cent Measure H game. Think of what $15,000,000 to $20,000,000 annually would do for just about any social cause in the SCV.
New parks, revamped and fully staffed senior centers, or complete state-of-the-art homeless housing and services. We’re kicking in potentially $200 million over 10 years.
And that sums up to about $2,700 for each and every SCV wage earner. Yes, we all have serious skin in this game.
And there’s no guarantee just who in L.A. County is going to get all those dollars – or even when. LAHSA (the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority), with L.A. County officials, will be meeting “in the near future” to sort options and determine funding priorities and protocols.
Silvia Gutierrez, director of the SCV’s Bridge to Home shelter, informs me she expects some sort of grant system to be established, with each of Measure H’s 40-something “strategies” developed into pools from which grant requests will be funded, depending on the quality of the proposals and the county’s determination of “need.”
Thankfully, our SCV homeless situation is far less critical than those in less fortunate areas of the county. Thus, the Measure H apparatus will likely overlook our fair valley, as our perceived need isn’t pressing.
No matter that the SCV may be supplying about $20,000,000 of annual funding for Measure H. Ms. Gutierrez estimates that, with SCV’s current diffused homelessness response, we may expect only $300,000 to $500,000 returned back to providers in our area.
Here’s the current status quo math should we not improve our homeless response posture:
The SCV pays in $20,000,000 per year, and in return we get back $300,000 to $500,000 in homeless funds. We get 2 percent back on what we pay in, or in other words, a 98 percent direct tax loss to our town.
That’s as generous as it is outrageous, and it demands an immediate response from our local politicians and providers to improve our prospects.
The SCV hosts a number of homeless service providers. There’s the Bridge to Home with its Winter Shelter. The Domestic Violence Center. The Child and Family Center. The Family Promise organization.
There’s the city providing certain modest funds itself. And most important, there’s our thousands of community volunteers donating hundreds of thousands of hours and nearly as many dollars.
We work hard toward serving the homeless. But frankly, our response is currently a patchwork, providing non-optimal, underfunded, limited services to only a small portion of our distressed homeless population.
We’ve not fully gotten our act together. Our responses are diffused, lacking central city planning. The city is supportive, but not strategically determined.
With Measure H soon expected to start sapping our city, it’s time to pull together for complete, comprehensive solutions, and frankly, to grab our “fair share.”
It’s time to see that Santa Clarita’s homeless problem, with some 600 souls in our riverbeds, parks, and streets, is still fixable – before it gets out of control. We have stresses, but we’re not totally overwhelmed like the county at large.
Acting together now, we can create optimal, coordinated, well-funded financial, mental, legal, and living solutions for the homeless among us.
This column is a direct call to Mayor Cameron Smyth and our City Council to urgently lobby LAHSA and the county, ensuring our maximum “fair share” of Measure H funds.
Further, this is a call to develop a comprehensive, best-practices homelessness response plan, sufficient to overwhelmingly overcome our city’s homeless problem, once and for all.
Our Winter Shelter closes in two weeks. Sixty homeless souls will be ejected, with many returning to the riverbed or to dead cars in parking lots. We are good-willed people, but we’ve got a revolving-door homeless response system. We can and should be better than this.
Measure H can be our catalyst to change. Let’s not let all this money simply slip away.
To Cameron Smyth and the City Council: Make bringing appropriate funding back to the Santa Clarita Valley a strategic priority. Make pulling our providers together, creating a best-practice, fully-funded, comprehensive homeless response a local strategic imperative.
Face reality and this unique present opportunity to make ours a “shining city on a hill.”
Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal. This column is second in a series on Measure H.