Steve Lunetta: Crunching the homeless numbers

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Last Friday, Los Angeles County released the results of its annual Homelessness Survey. My wife and I participated in the counting project that was held and found a grand total of 0 homeless people in our zones in the SCV.

We didn’t get the “sweet” count areas like the riverbeds. I guess Republicans get stuck looking for homeless in Stevenson Ranch. At least they could have given us a couple Starbucks.

As you recall, I was 51 percent in favor of and 49% opposed to Measure H, the county-wide 0.25% increase in sales tax to combat homelessness passed in 2017. The measure is projected to raise a whopping $355 million annually.

This data is the first “report card” on whether this is working. It’s also a statement on whether Steve is a total moron for marginally supporting this new tax.

The good news: Homelessness dropped by 3%! There were 53,195 homeless in LA County in 2018, as opposed to 55,048 in 2017. I know because I looked it up.

This is where things get a little murky. Now, mind you, my job as the manager of a laboratory is to look at data and numbers all day long. I think I’m fairly good at it. But, some of these statistics are a bit baffling.

Out of the 53,195 homeless, 39,826 are “unsheltered” while 13,369 are “sheltered.” Another piece of good news: there is a 36% drop in unhoused AIDS patients and an 18% drop in unhoused veterans.

But, the website clearly declares that Measure H was responsible for the housing of 5,239 people permanently and 10,330 people in crisis/bridge/interim housing. Were these numbers accounted for in the initial “good news”? I called the county and tried to get an answer but no luck.

The LA Times declares that 16,500 people were housed. Not sure where they got that number.

Let’s only count the 5,239 that got permanent housing and do not count in the main homelessness numbers. That is a total of 58,434 that are involved in this issue. That is really an increase of 6%!

This +6% number is more in line with the double-digit increases we have been seeing in the homeless population over the last few years.

So, are we getting much bang for our buck? The County has an ambitious plan that is backed by $402 million. Of course, Measure H is raising about $355 million annually.

If we take the budget, $402MM, and divide it by the total number of homeless (53,195), we get $7,557 per person per year. Seems reasonable.

But, remember, we are spending an incremental $355MM. As the county reports, we decreased the homeless population by 1,853 people (55,048 minus 53,195). If my math is correct, we spent $191,581 per person to obtain this improvement.

Let’s say the LA Times is correct and that 16,500 folks were housed. That is still $21,515 per person in incremental spending to get a roof over their heads.

I’m a little bit disturbed here. While homeless advocates are crowing about the 3% decrease in total homeless population, I don’t think these numbers reflect very well on the effectiveness of the spending.

It may be quite possible that the homeless population is still growing at a massive rate and that the huge spending created by Measure H is simple blunting a problem that is still growing at an astounding rate.

This makes me wonder if all of our good intentions have simply created a massive bureaucracy that is powerless to address the numerous root causes of the problem.

Being in business, I would look at the effectiveness of the spending. If we are spending $191K for every person taken from the street, we could save a ton of money and simply make them county employees at $60K per year.

Measure HHH, the initiative to increase affordable housing, has encountered some road blocks and only a fraction of the units that were projected to be built have been completed. Why is that?

Simply put, most communities refuse to allow the county to build “project-type” housing in their areas. They fear, for good reason, that the units will be poorly managed and destroy the quality of life for current residents.

In summary, it seems like the homelessness community is giving themselves a letter grade of “B” for this first report card. I am disappointed by the impact of so many resources on the problem. I give Measure H and its implementation a “D” so far.

Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita and may have been wrong to support Measure H. He can be reached at [email protected].

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