Tue, Jul

Church and Big Business Noticeably Absent from Homeless Solutions


DEEGAN ON LA-There’s been no shortage of ideas, proposals, concepts, wishes and dreams for how to provide housing for our city’s homeless population. Maybe even some prayers said in private. Some cost estimates go as high as $2 billion to provide supportive housing. Now, if only someone would agree to pay for it! That someone is looking more and more like the taxpayers, but to get them to vote “yes” on funding will take a lot of strong messaging from a variety of sources. 

Lots of political will is pushing for solutions, at both the city and county levels. But why hasn’t Cardinal José Horacio Gómez, spiritual leader of over four million Catholics in 287 parishes in the Archdiocese, spoken out? And, what about Gary L. Toebben, President and CEO of the LA Area Chamber of Commerce that represents the interests of over 235,000 businesses in LA County, an organization that sponsors more than 25 advocacy events annually? 

The most Toebben has said recently about homelessness in our city, was on January 19, 2016 in the face of impending El Nino rains: “I applaud the City and County for preparing these comprehensive and complimentary plans” (to care for the homeless if it rains heavily.) 

Three weeks later, on February February 9, 2016, he marginally increased his soft voice on homelessness by saying, “I urge you (the County Supervisors) to take the next step in ending our housing and homelessness crisis by adopting the Comprehensive Homeless Strategy before you today.” 

To “applaud” and to “urge”, essentially to be a cheerleader sitting on the sidelines, is a very weak form of advocacy from a business leader representing “member companies who are working to promote the economic vitality and quality of life in the LA region.” 

Do Toebben and the Chamber think that “quality of life” is reserved for the business class and is irrelevant to the homeless whose “quality of life” would be dramatically improved if able to transition into supportive housing? Could one of his 25 annual advocacy programs become one that tackles homelessness? 

As weak as this advocacy from Big Business is, the Church leadership performs even worse on the civic stage. Cardinal Gómez has said nothing about how he may lead the Church into a region-wide solution to homelessness. He’s not even offering to pray for them. This is hard to understand from a spiritual leader that has one of the largest megaphones in this heavily Catholic city. Some loud and strong words from him could activate the huge apparatus of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles into action. Yet he has revealed no voice, no plan for the homeless. 

It’s not just taxpayers that should be carrying the burden of providing for the homeless: corporate Los Angeles and religious Los Angeles must form a coalition with political Los Angeles to start providing some solutions. This includes encouraging their constituencies of businessmen and parishioners to support programs that they, Cardinal Gomez and Chamber President Toebben, create, articulate and lead; they should mobilize their followers with a call to action to help the city and county that are facing an uphill battle to get the voters to approve revenue schemes on the November 8 ballot. 

There will be two ballot measures, one from the city and one from the county. The city measure calls for taxpayers to carry new debt through bond payments; the county wants a vote in favor of a tax on marijuana, but that relies on the approval of the marijuana ballot initiative, California’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act. 

The Los Angeles City Council agreed to place a $1.2 billion bond initiative on the November city ballot to build more housing for the homeless, although there are strings attached: by law, the bond money could be used only for housing construction, not to provide services. 

The County reached a point where it had to choose between a 1/4 cent sales tax or a 10% levy on the gross receipts of businesses that produce or distribute marijuana and related products. It voted for the tax on weed, a risk since it hinges on the California Adult Use of Marijuana Act being approved by voters. Strings include restricting the tax-on-weed revenue to pay for mental health and substance abuse treatment, rental subsidies, emergency housing and other services intended to get and keep people off the streets. Annual revenue from this tax is estimated at $130 million. If voters approve legalization, the marijuana market would be valued at $1.3 billion annually and growing. 

According to LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, “The Board chose an uncertain marijuana business tax to fight homelessness, rather than a reliable 1/4 cent sales tax to put on the November ballot. The Board selected an option that would generate the least amount of money and take the longest amount of time to generate funds.” 

On the upside, Fortune Magazine recently reported that Colorado, a state with a fraction of our population, collected $1 billion in marijuana tax revenues last year. In the long run, the 10% tax on marijuana could be a significant money maker for the county. 

Neither the city nor the county measure is pure, and both must fight for attention among some nineteen statewide measures, as well as a handful of local measures, all on the November 8 ballot. Statewide measures include votes relating to adult entertainment, regulation of businesses, campaign finance, the death penalty, education, elections and campaigns, the environment, firearms, government accountability, healthcare, and legalization of marijuana. 

Ridley-Thomas continued, “There is no guarantee that voters in November will pass a measure legalizing the use of marijuana, and there are also many unresolved questions as to the impact on public health and safety on our communities-- particularly those that are most vulnerable.”… “However, I remain committed to securing the funds needed to address the homeless crisis in LA County.” 

The politicos cannot be the only ones speaking out to rally support for their proposals to help the homeless -- especially when the Church and the Chamber have the resources to aggressively join the conversation with loud voices. They have the means to take their place in the civic discourse about homelessness, an issue that concerns everybody in the city. Will they become leaders and join the conversation? Will they bring their followers along, now?


(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 [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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