Bill Boyarsky
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Help for the homeless a phone call away?

It’s an increasingly common occurrence in Los Angeles County. A homeless encampment appears under a freeway or in a park near your house. The inhabitants, probably substance-addicted, mentally ill or just hostile, look as though they need help. You’re a public spirited Angeleno. Who do you call to deal with the situation?

bill-300.jpgI put the question to Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, a leader in the effort to find housing and treatment for the more than 47,000 homeless in the county. I told him that I, as a Los Angeles resident don’t want these people put in jail. I want them to get help. But if I call the city or county, my inquiry will be lost in their huge bureaucracies.

Ridley-Thomas said a special service line would be set up this summer to handle such calls. A campaign to end homelessness will head the effort. “We’ll have signs to call this number,” he said. The campaign will plaster the city with signs with the phone number. “They'll be on trains and buses and the county homeless website,” he said.

A resident’s call on the hot line will go to a trained homeless worker who will dispatch a team to consisting of a social worker, a substance abuse specialist, a public health nurse and a formerly homeless person. The team would try to persuade the homeless people to move into housing created by county tax increase funds and a related city of Los Angeles homeless bond measure. The team would stick with homeless foks until they are persuaded to abandon their shelters.

This process is part of the plans being made on how to spend the $356 million from proceeds of the quarter-cent sales tax increase approved by the voters in March. Unless homelessness is reduced, residents may wonder if their votes have been wasted.

The Los Angeles Times’ Doug Smith reported that a citizens advisory group has recommended spending $216 million for short-term rental subsidies and services to homeless people who have the capacity to become self-sufficient. A total of $356 million a year would be raised by the tax increase. Added to this are proceeds of a $1.2 billion city bond issue, which would finance 10,000 more units of homeless housing.

It all sounds good. But anyone familiar with the county and city bureaucracies knows the difficulty of bringing these two levels of government together.

By mid summer, the plans should be in place, Ridley-Thomas said. If they succeed, Ridley-Thomas, other local officials and the news media will have to keep a close watch on the process.

wilshire-homeless-camp.jpgHomeless camp on Wilshire Boulevard sidewalk within MacArthur Park. LA Observed photo.

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