County leaders are counting on nonprofit homeless services providers to fulfil the promise of Measure H

By Gary Walker

At final count nearly 70% of Los Angeles County voters who turned out for the March 7 election chose to tax themselves in support of expanded homeless services, allowing local lawmakers and social services providers to intensify such efforts as early as this summer.

Measure H’s temporary .25% sales tax hike takes effect July 1 and is expected to raise about $355 million each year over the next decade — money that both public agencies and nonprofits will use to fund an array of interconnected services designed to get more of the county’s 46,000 homeless residents off the streets.

In separate conversations last week, Los Angeles County Supervisors Janice Hahn and Sheila Kuehl discussed using Measure H proceeds to deploy more street outreach teams to connect the homeless with a continuum of care, increase the number of mental health case workers, expand job training programs and accelerate rapid rehousing and homelessness prevention efforts.

Hahn, who cosponsored Measure H, said it is essential that nonprofit agencies do much of the hands-on work in order to avoid creating additional government bureaucracy.

“This money will be going directly to those groups that have a proven track record of getting people not only the services they need, but eventually on a path that leads them to permanent housing,” said Hahn, whose district includes Marina del Rey, Playa del Rey and part of Westchester.

Kuehl, whose district includes Santa Monica and most of Venice, called out the Venice-based St. Joseph Center as one of the agencies that she hopes to provide with additional funding.

“St. Joseph Center is just one of those social services providers that have experience on the ground, that knows how to do the kind of outreach that is needed and provide the necessary wraparound services that Measure H will fund,” Kuehl said.

St. Joseph Center President and CEO Va Lecia Adams Kellum is eager to expand the agency’s reach.

“We definitely need more boots on the ground for coordinated outreach so that we can make sure we close the gaps and get people off the streets. There’s a great need for more interim and rapid rehousing, as well as assessing needs and meeting people right where they are,” Adams-Kellum said.

One group Hahn is looking at is People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), which has been active in Westchester and Playa del Rey.

PATH has preciously extended its outreach to encampments in the Ballona Wetlands, which Hahn would like to see happen again.

“Wherever there’s a need, we would be happy to help and assess,” PATH Director of Communications Jackie Vorhauer said. “Measure H is historic and significant because of the resources it will be able to provide to the Westside.”

Robin Doyno, chair of the Mar Vista Community Council’s Homeless Solutions Committee, would like to see Measure H proceeds fund transitional services that will reach the people he sees living beneath freeway overpasses in his community.

“My guess is that there are not enough of those dedicated and skilled case workers who will lift up a tent flap, introduce themselves and begin to end a near-hopeless downward spiral,” Doyno said.

Mar Vista, Del Rey and Playa Vista are represented by L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who cosponsored Measure H with Hahn.

At the Board of Supervisor’s March 21 meeting, Kuehl offered a motion to expand the county’s homelessness prevention efforts to include eviction defense, financial assistance and legal representation.

“A large part of this homeless initiative is prevention. Sometimes all a person or a family might need is help for a month or two,” Kuehl noted.

Measure H funds are also intended to maximize the effectiveness of Proposition HHH, last year’s voter-approved L.A. city property tax increase to fund the creation of 10,000 or more new units of affordable housing over the next decade. The wider social safety net it provides is expected to not only get the homeless into that housing, but also to provide the support they need to stay there and rebuild their lives.

“You can’t just put a person in a house and expect their lives to get better,” Hahn said.

She believes both initiatives signal a sea change in attitudes toward the homeless.

“I don’t think we had to convince the voters that there was a problem. It’s in everyone’s neighborhood. When I was campaigning, people told me [homelessness] was the No. 1 problem in Los Angeles,” Hahn said. “This was about helping people that they probably will never meet.”