There is no debate that dealing with homelessness will cost big money.
For Los Angeles, either a bond measure or tax would be required, but a super-majority of voters would have to approve it.
According to Council Member Mike Bonin, as reported in the LA Times, “I think if we can show that we have an actual strategy, they’d be willing to invest in it.”
That’s an understatement.
There would be plenty of sentiment in favor of providing shelter and services for the homeless in our city. Arguably, it is the largest segment of its kind in the nation – and growing. The problem is no longer confined to freeway underpasses and rundown industrial corridors. People are camping in city parks and near public buildings in full view of all.
Closer to my home, the vicinity of North Hollywood Park, near the Amelia Earhart Regional Library, has become a magnet for RVs and blue tarps. This was not the case, at least the current scale of habitation, not that many years ago.
But what strategy should be implemented?
Voters will not be in the mood to throw $2 billion at the crisis without safeguards guaranteeing the funds will be applied effectively, with the most bang for the bucks.
The most important objective is recognizing the limits of such a financial commitment. Not everyone in the homeless population will benefit. A strategy that attempts to address all segments will fail.
Just as emergency medical responders employ triaging in dealing with victims of a disaster, housing and other assistance will have to initially target those who can benefit the most; others will have to wait or acquiesce to scaled down support.
On the lowest rung of the homeless ladder are those who do not wish to leave the street life behind. They include the mentally ill, substance abusers and just the hard core who want to be left alone. Unless laws are passed making forced institutionalization possible, some persons will always choose life on the sidewalks. Even with institutionalization, we would need the facilities, not to mention the staff and medical services to operate them. $2 billion would barely make a dent. Sadly, this is not a practical option.
The priority must be to rescue the ones who can – and want to be helped.
They amount to a very diverse group, in various levels of need. A one-size-fits-all solution will not work.
Traditional affordable or subsidized apartments are not for everyone. Only those who are responsible enough to care for their accommodations should be eligible to occupy them.
Dormitories could be an option for those who will need acclimation to a structured life. Supervision, security, education and medical services will be essential. Underutilized city or county properties might be good choices for constructing dorms or repurposing existing facilities.
Lastly, we could consider tried-and-true campgrounds as short-term solutions. The National Guard could design and construct camps. If we can house military personnel in tent cities in war zones, we can certainly create livable encampments in the greater metropolitan area.
The more realistic a plan the city can offer, the more likely the voters will support it.
The city must also consider offsetting the cost to some degree. The most sizable piece of the general fund is compensation. Retirement benefits have grown from 10% of the general fund to 20% in just 10 years. That trend must be reversed, more so now in view of helping the homeless without disproportionately burdening the taxpayers.