DEEGAN ON LA--Although homelessness in Los Angeles County has reached crisis proportions, Governor Jerry Brown this week refused to take action on two proposed solutions that were put forward to him by the LA Board of Supervisors.
The problem’s getting worse, not better, by the day. Heat is simmering and a boiling-over point may be on the horizon. “The issue of homelessness is compelling beyond contradiction,” declared Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, addressing his remarks to an audience of county stakeholders on Thursday, June 16. He is one of the most vocal County Supervisors addressing what he calls “an unescapable reality.”
Ridley-Thomas’ rhetoric is matched by his similarly forceful advocacy of solutions: one was a motion to the Governor, co-authored with Sheila Kuehl and unanimously backed by all five supervisors, to ask the Governor to declare a statewide state of emergency to help the homeless that would unlock a half billion dollars from the state’s Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties. Governor Brown said that a declaration by him of a state of emergency to help the homeless “is not appropriate.”
The second motion was an appeal to the state legislature and the Governor for a millionaires’ tax, the so-called “Robin Hood” tax that would allow the County to tax millionaires 1% of their personal income to pay for homeless housing. Brown also turned this down, saying he had “deep concerns” when it comes to allowing local governments to levy additional taxes.
Despite these two rejections, Ridley-Thomas vowed that the County will continue to push the Governor for more action. “Homelessness is not a partisan issue, it is a humanitarian concern. Engaging state leadership to join with us in providing solutions is critically important,” said Ridley-Thomas.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Governor Brown was trained to be a Jesuit priest. One of the “Six Values” that are known as the “Principles of the Jesuits” is the “Principle of Cura Personalis: Care for the individual person” that includes having concern for the poor and marginalized, categories that squarely define the homeless.
“We are faced with an ever-expanding crisis, and the crisis is worsening” is how Ridley-Thomas characterized the matter. He continued, saying that “the increase in homelessness is trending upward in a very disturbing way, and is clearly not deniable. It isn’t simply our imagination -- the problem is expanding. People throughout the county report they are seeing homeless in their communities that they have never seen before. This makes it abundantly clear that something is going on. According to the polls, homelessness is a top-tier issue of people in the County, and combating homelessness is an unescapable reality.”
What are the other options?
The budget the Governor and state lawmakers agreed on this week would set aside some funding for affordable housing, to be spent only if a separate deal can be reached on streamlining the process for new construction. The Governor recently called for relaxing the rules on construction zoning and environmental reviews in an effort to “streamline” the process for new construction.
There may be $267 million in the new budget to build supportive housing for mentally ill homeless people, but the County’s share of that would only be about $40 million, which is 10% of the estimated $450 million per year it would cost to address housing issues for the homeless. And, that $40 million allocation would be just for this year’s budget.
Another option may be for the city to place a bond measure on the November ballot to build more housing for the homeless. While there may have been public support for millionaires to be taxed to pay for this program, it’s unknown how all voters will react to paying for homeless housing out of their own pockets. An increase of the sales tax or a parcel tax are other options, but both would need supervisorial support and a vote by the public.
Identifying the problem and estimating the cost have been done. Now, getting someone to pay for it is the real challenge.
Not one to give up, Ridley-Thomas said, “The momentum we are building is very encouraging. We are part of a movement that is articulating itself from a perspective of compassion and doing what is right for the homeless.”
(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.