LOS ANGELES — The City Council approved a plan Feb. 9 aimed at vastly expanding the city’s efforts to end homelessness, primarily by hiring more outreach workers, offering housing vouchers and building permanent housing for the tens of thousands of people living on the streets of Los Angeles.
The plan, which could cost $1.87 billion over the next decade, also details ways the city and other officials can step in to prevent people who are at risk from becoming homeless.
The county, which has the primary responsibility for providing homeless services, were expected to step up its anti-homelessness efforts, with the Board of Supervisors adoption of its own strategic plan that calls on cities to subsidize housing costs, create policy that encourages more affordable housing to be built and improve the way police and other public safety officers interact with the homeless.
Under the county homeless initiative, cities interested in helping with rent subsidies, under a program known as rapid re-housing, would pay $500 per month for each household receiving the assistance, while the county would match that cost.
For the city of Los Angeles, which has more than half of the estimated 44,000 homeless people in the county, the strategic plan lays out options for the use of about $100 million in city funds in the upcoming year, potentially reaching the $1.87 billion mark over the next 10 years.
City leaders, including Mayor Eric Garcetti and several City Council members, announced a plan last year to dedicate about $100 million in city general funds toward homelessness.
Councilman Jose Huizar, who co-chairs the council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee, acknowledged that similar calls to action by past city leaders have come and gone without result, but “what’s different today and the direction that we are going is that we are turning from being reactive to proactive in setting the policy direction of the city.”
The city of Los Angeles has typically acted to help the homeless when there are court orders or lawsuits, and tends to turn to law enforcement to interact with the homeless, according to Huizar.
He said the plan will keep the city on track, even through changes in city leadership, by laying out goals for the city to reach.
“The benchmarks are in there for the public to hold us accountable,” he said.
Council members also noted that the plan is only the first step, and that it still needs to be backed with funding, either through the general fund or a possible ballot measure in November.
“If solving homelessness is a marathon, all we’ve done today is fill out the registration form,” Councilman Mike Bonin said.
Huizar’s co-chair on the committee, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, said that the plan also represents “unprecedented level of focus and commitment of getting to zero homelessness.”
Huizar noted that with the plan adopted, “the real test” will be in how the city will come up with the $100 million, which may require that other city expenses be scaled back.
“The real critical piece is going to come when we discuss the budget for the next fiscal year and put some money behind the recommendations,” he said earlier this week.
Huizar said some of those budget discussions may include looking at how much the city will spend on enforcement of laws that directly affect people living on the streets, such as a much-debated law adopted last year that makes it easier for the city to remove items from streets and dismantle encampments.
Some advocates for the homeless who live in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles have criticized the plan as failing to address how the city enforces such laws.
Eric Ares, a community organizer with Los Angeles Community Action Network, said there are no guidelines for how police officers should interpret such laws in the 200-plus pages of the city strategic plan, which includes one page devoted to the role of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Ares said the issue of enforcement should not be a separate conversation from that of the strategic plan, adding that he feels city officials were “very, very intentional about trying to talk about them [homelessness and enforcement] separately,” Ares said.
A controversial law, known as 56.11, that would make it easier for city officials to throw away items, such as homeless encampments, that are left on sidewalks was not part of the Feb. 9 vote, and will likely be considered by the Homelessness and Poverty Committee later this month or in early March.
Ares said a detailed plan for enforcement should be added to the strategic plan, noting that negative encounters with police officers, who often accompany service providers, deters many who are homeless from taking advantage of services.
Criminal records or citation records may also make it more difficult for the homeless to qualify for certain services, Ares said.
The county’s draft plan, which was expected to be approved, includes 47 recommendations covering six goals, which are to prevent homelessness, subsidize housing costs, increase income, provide case management and services, create a coordinated system for homeless services and increase affordable housing.