In years past, we have been continually told about the many souls who have become homeless in California. It is becoming an increasingly difficult problem to address as the numbers increase and solutions are taken off the table by our legislators in Sacramento. In some California cities, the problem has become so acute that businesses are being forced to leave, public safety is at risk with crime on the rise, and diseases are being seen which were thought to have been eradicated long ago.
On June 4, 2019, The Guardian published an article reporting that Los Angeles has experienced a 16 percent increase in the homeless population over the past year. It went on to state, “There are now 36,000 homeless in the City of Los Angeles and nearly 59,000 across L.A. County, a 16 percent and 12 percent uptick respectively.” So, you may remember 2016, when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti stated, “The voters of Los Angeles have radically reshaped our future — giving us a mandate to end street homelessness over the next decade.” The mayor had led an effort to pass Proposition HHH. “This $1.2 billion bond would more than triple L.A. city’s annual production of supportive housing and help build approximately 10,000 housing units.” Just in case you are not good at doing math in your head, the plan was to spend $120,000 per unit from Measure HHH, and the resulting units would each have to house approximately five homeless individuals for Mr. Garcetti’s predicted results to become reality. This plan was flawed from the beginning, and the only thing L.A. voters ended up with was a property tax increase.
With the passage of Measure HHH, and green bills seemingly floating out of the clouds, L.A. County could not be left behind, and their money grubbers came up with Measure H the next year. This initiative, placed on the ballot by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, when passed by a 2/3 majority vote, would be funded by a sales tax increase of “one-quarter of one cent for a period of ten years, generating approximately $350 million in annual revenues to fund a set of strategies identified by the L.A. County Homeless Initiative. These strategies aim to prevent homelessness, increase income, subsidize housing costs, provide case management and other services, increase access to affordable housing, and create a coordinated delivery system” (County of Los Angeles Public Health, Health Impact Evaluation Center).
I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to understand that adding an additional $3.55 billion over 10 years to the City of L.A.’s $1.2 billion is not going to solve the issue for L.A. County’s 47,000 (in 2017) homeless street residents either, if the resulting actions are to build $400,000 apartments. Yet the sales pitch came fast and furious. Phil Ansell, director of the county’s Homeless Initiative stated, “To put this funding in perspective, a quarter-cent sales tax would translate into an additional tax of 10 cents on the purchase of a $40 sweater, or $1 on the purchase of a $400 television.” While that does not sound like much, I calculated in March of 2017 that the Santa Clarita Valley would be contributing approximately $7.7 million a year.
Next came The Signal’s Measure H debate at College of the Canyons. Ms. Katie Hill, then Deputy CEO and Executive Director of PATH (People Helping The Homeless) spoke in favor of the initiative. Ms. Hill and Phil Ansell (L.A. Times) talked about placing 45,000 individuals into permanent housing in the first five years, which I thought was a pretty tall order and would never happen. When at the debate, I was able to raise one question: “Would the (Measure H) funding be divided geographically according to the homeless population in any given area?” Ms. Hill did not have an answer or reveal any financial information during the debate. Then came the election, and Measure H passed with 77 percent in favor.
Today, after three years of Measure HHH and two years of Measure H implementation, the homeless problem has not shrunk; instead it has grown even larger. Thankfully, the idea of just throwing money at a solution is losing its luster. Even Supervisor Barger has come to understand, “It’s not working the way we are doing it,” as he told the Los Angeles Times. “I’m going to finally say what I think needs to be done to move forward.” But it takes real guts to take the issue on, particularly when you have powerful forces pushing the other way. I believe the California Globe showed sufficient intestinal fortitude when on Dec. 28, 2019, they published an article asking the question, “Who Has Profited From The Homeless Crisis Financially and Politically?” It is an informative read that makes you think, particularly when they wrote about a “crew of self-proclaimed homeless advocates receiving six-figure salaries stemming from Ballot initiates to public donations, campaign contributions, and sweetheart deals.” To emphasize their position, they published PATH’s tax returns, which show PATH having $47.7 million in revenue in 2017 and spending $25 million — over 50 percent — on salaries.
It seems KCET had it right in 2017 when during the Measure H campaign their position was, “The money will go to the same homeless organizations that let the homelessness get out of hand.” In concept, that is precisely what is happening in Santa Clarita today, although unlike organizations such as PATH, our groups are mostly made up of local nonprofits, the majority of which operate on a shoe-string and have the best interest of our community in mind. But even with all the good intentions demonstrated by many of our local organizations, it does not change the concept, “If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always got.”
From the very beginning, our City Council did not take much interest in Measure H financial planning, and today we shuffle along without sufficient funds to handle our local homelessness problem, while donating most of our money to the big Measure H machine to the south. When Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth brought forth the concept of a Homelessness Task Force, he implemented it in a way where attendance is limited to those organizations he has invited, the meetings are not noticed nor open to the public, and results are not published. We are currently in the situation KCET lamented, in which the meager amount of funding goes to the same “Good Old Boys and Girls” organizations, and new ideas are not sought after or welcomed.
So, while our current homeless shelter has been provided funding to operate year-round this year, it resides in temporary structures, without connection to city water or sewer system, and lacks sufficient beds to house our homeless population. This is not the fault of Bridge to Home, the folks who run the shelter. They have been working diligently with the resources available. It is time for the City of Santa Clarita and the County of Los Angeles to step up and correct this very fixable issue.
Let’s hope someone at Santa Clarita City Hall is both listening and willing to take action.
The City Responds:
In Mr. Ferdman’s editorial “Homelessness and Wondering Where All Our Money Went,” (above)he states the “City Council did not take much interest in Measure H financial planning, and today we shuffle along without sufficient funds to handle our local homelessness problem.” The City has been and continues to participate in all County policy and planning summits since Measure H passed in 2017. Due to this partnership and participation, the City is one of only a few to acquire three Measure H grants totaling $425,000. This funding was used to develop a three-year action plan ($50,000), hire a part-time homeless coordinator for the next 12 months ($75,000), and research and acquire property for a future permanent site for Family Promise SCV to operate and provide transitional housing units for their clients ($300,000).
In addition to Measure H funding, the City has committed significant resources to this issue. Recently, the City donated two properties (valued at more than $1 million) to Bridge to Home that will house their future permanent facilities, as well as $50,000 for a project manager to expedite its completion. The City Council also granted $100,000 to help the Bridge to Home expedite its expansion to year-round services and leverage even more Measure H funding for additional services. Both of the monetary donations were given from the City’s General Fund and did not take into account additional Measure H funding directly awarded to Bridge to Home.
Santa Clarita is also one of only a few cities to have developed a task force (formed in 2018), comprised of more than 30 local service professionals, to implement the local action plan. Many positive actions have been completed by this group that will help further expand local service capacity to help those experiencing homelessness in the community. Mr. Ferdman incorrectly claims that the Task Force operates in a way that is closed off from the public. In fact, reporters do attend Task Force meetings and frequently report on what happens for public education.
Many other cities in this County are facing public backlash, impeding action. The opposite is true here in Santa Clarita, thanks to the leadership of the City Council, volunteerism of members on the local task force and overall support of this community to embrace action and change. There is much more to do, but to group this City and the positive actions being taken with county-wide generalities is simply not fact.