Bill Boyarsky
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Measure H: Maybe government works

It’s something of a miracle that Measure H, the Los Angeles County tax increase to improve services for the homeless, may be near voter approval.

bill-300.jpgTrue, some votes remain to be counted. Still, the Los Angeles countywide measure, raising the sales tax by a quarter of a cent, just made it above the two thirds vote required for victory in Tuesday’s election. Absentee and provisional ballots could defeat the tax increase. But as Doug Smith wrote in the Los Angeles Times, if the majority holds up, a victory “would constitute a wave of generosity by city and county voters—giving homeless services organizations the funds they say they need.”

It would to add about $355 million annually for homeless programs over 10 years. The money would provide support services for the new housing in Los Angeles as well as rental subsidies and services for thousands more units around the county. The housing would be financed by a bond measure approved by Los Angeles city voters last November.

Even with victory not clinched, the results are still noteworthy and offer lessons to be learned. This is especially in the Trump era, where all we hear about are Republican efforts to wipe out government services they consider worthless. Among the lessons:

-People want results and self-interest is important. Looking at a Los Angeles Times map of the vote, it’s possible to trace support through a widespread area, many of whose residents once gave little thought to homelessness but now see encampments on sidewalks, parks and under freeways as a daily presence.

-Government can work. Measure H was the second element of a two- part Los Angeles city and county attack on homelessness that has zoomed out of control. The housing bond issue was the first. The county’s Measure H would finance the hiring of social workers and mental health staff to go out on the streets and persuade the homeless to accept help and possibly move into the housing provided by the city bond issue. The city and county governments have been notorious for their feuding. The crisis brought together leaders in city hall and the county to come up with a solution that offers a chance of success but no guarantee. It took many meetings, immersion in detail and putting ego aside to agree on the plan.

-Unsung heroes deserve praise. While Angelenos watched in horror as homeless encampments sprung up on their neighborhood streets, social workers and volunteers went from tent to tent, talking to people afflicted with mental illness and substance abuse. Others worked in social service programs across the basin, seeking housing, finding space in overcrowded care facilities. Their numbers were small given the size of the problem. But the workers haven’t given up and Measure H would greatly increase their number.

-Newspapers still count. Most news media have focused in on homelessness, but the Los Angeles Times deserves special praise. Its reporting team, including columnist Steve Lopez, prowled the streets and talked to countless people to get the story. The Times’ powerful coverage was a great help in getting out the Measure H vote.

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