LOS ANGELES — State lawmakers joined local officials in downtown’s Skid Row district Jan. 4 to announce a proposal to issue $2 billion in bonds to help build housing for people who are chronically homeless due to mental illness.
If approved, the funding would likely be distributed as competitive grants to permanent supportive housing projects that have built-in health and counseling services, state Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, said.
The $2 billion could help build as many as 14,000 permanent supportive housing units, de Leon said.
“This strategic proposal that we’re moving forward on the first day of the legislative session will provide many homeless Californians with the key to health and home,” de Leon said.
He said the state has 114,000 homeless people, the largest population in the country, with 28,200 of them chronically homeless.
“Homelessness in California is a sad reminder of the stratified society that we live in,” the lawmaker said.
De Leon, joined by local officials and other state lawmakers, made the announcement at the Star Apartments, a permanent supportive housing complex on Skid Row, where many of Los Angeles’ shelters and services, as well as homeless population, are concentrated.
Supporters of the initiative lauded its “housing first” approach, which focuses on providing housing stability to those struggling with mental health issues.
“It is about mental health attention and services — wrap-around services — and it takes a lot of funds and support for that,” county Supervisor Hilda Solis said.
She said she hopes a “good chunk” of the funding will go to the Los Angeles area, which has more than 40,000 people who are homeless.
Mayor Eric Garcetti supported the proposal.
“Solving our homelessness crisis requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, and financial support from the state is essential to getting people off the street and into homes,” he said. “The sooner we house our most vulnerable population, the faster we can ensure better opportunities and a more stable future for all Angelenos.”
City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell also supported de Leon’s plan.
“This is a statewide conversation that started in Los Angeles due to the increased homelessness faced in communities across the city, and today’s announcement is the first in many steps we must take to provide those living on the streets with the opportunity to move into permanent supportive housing,” O’Farrell said.
The $2 billion would be one piece in a larger effort to address homelessness, with funding from other sources also needed, she said.
De Leon said the initiative still needs to makes its way through the state legislative process, with hearings likely to be held until June. The goal is to make at least some of the funding available by 2017, he said.
“Our idea is to move this as a budget priority for the California State Senate; therefore, we will enter into negotiations with the Assembly, as well as the governor,” de Leon said.
The proposal also calls for stop-gap measures that would provideimmediate help while permanent supportive units are still being constructed.
Those proposed measures include spending $200 million from the state general fund on rent subsidies over four years and increasing aid for the poor who are at higher risk of becoming homeless because they are elderly, blind or disabled.