Homeless tents along Wilshire Boulevard in the Westlake district last year.
By Elise Buik and Mark Ridley-Thomas
Elise Buik is president of United Way of Greater Los Angeles. Mark Ridley-Thomas is the Los Angeles County supervisor from the 2nd district.
Early last year, a woman named Julie Crane, only in her 50s, died alone in her car. Born to talented chemists, the university graduate once had a career with Princess Cruises before falling into homelessness. They say she died of natural causes.
There is nothing natural about dying alone in a car. There is nothing natural about living in a County where nearly 58,000 people lack the stability of a safe place to sleep.
Los Angeles County has changed dramatically in recent years. Thanks to Measure M, we're building the infrastructure of the future with an $860 million annual investment in transportation for our growing population. We're home to two NFL teams, building world-class stadiums, and are set to host the world during the 2028 Olympics.
But despite many incredible changes for the better, we're still not effectively tackling our homelessness crisis. Encampments are no longer reserved to Skid Row, they're present in neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles County because, unfortunately, it's an issue that we have overlooked and under-invested in for decades. That all changed November 2016 and March 2017 when voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition HHH and Measure H, which will generate $5 billion over ten years to build housing, fund services and, for the first time, allow us to also focus on prevention.
Today marks the one-year anniversary of Measure H. Recognizing the urgency, the county advanced funding back in July, prior to the tax going into effect, in order to get work started quickly. Since then, we have quadrupled the number of homeless outreach teams, added 600 shelter beds, and provided subsidies or bridge housing to keep over 1,000 people housed.
In order to address our most vulnerable homeless population, we're also prioritizing supportive housing, a proven and cost-effective solution. A USC study showed that costs to provide supportive housing for our homeless neighbors are 43% lower than the costs associated with a person living on the streets or in emergency shelters. The study also found that supportive housing is more effective than other solutions because once individuals are housed, access to services-- including mental health treatment, medical care, and job training -- helped them to stay housed with a 90% retention rate. What's more, RAND Corporation's 2017 evaluation of Los Angeles County's Housing for Health program, which provides supportive housing with intensive services to people with complex medical and behavioral health issues who are also experiencing homelessness, found that for every $1 invested in the housing and services program, the County saved $1.20 in health care and social service costs.
The good news is the story you might not know: over the past 10 years, we have quietly built the infrastructure needed to support the major impact we need to take everyone off the streets. We're not starting from scratch with this multi-billion-dollar investment. We're building on the success of hundreds of supportive housing buildings that are already peacefully coexisting in neighborhoods countywide.
The other infrastructure we have built is alignment in our community. The City of Los Angeles and the County of Los Angeles are working in tandem to thoughtfully integrate housing and services. Philanthropy, Labor, Business, the faith-based community, elected officials, community-based developers, and providers are all aligned and in this for the long term.
But government and philanthropy can't do this alone. The voters have spoken in approving these dollars; now we need residents to play an active role in supporting solutions in their neighborhoods. And the good news is they want to. In a recent poll, close to 70% of county residents support building supportive housing in their neighborhoods and a majority believe we should focus our investments on long-term permanent solutions versus short-term fixes.
It will take all of us to make progress and that's why we are launching a community engagement campaign entitled Everyone In. This campaign will allow individuals to learn more about the people who are experiencing homelessness in their community, to be informed on supportive housing, to attend community events and tours, to volunteer, and to take an active role in supporting solutions that work. The campaign will also feature public dashboards to monitor progress and results throughout the 88 cities countywide.
A community should be judged by how its most vulnerable population--in our case, our homeless neighbors--are treated. Homelessness is not an easy problem to solve. It will take deeply committed partnerships, persistence, and innovation to make a serious dent in homelessness. The good news is we know what works and voters across the county have agreed to fund those solutions -- but funding alone is not enough. Let L.A.'s legacy not just be our transportation systems or Olympic bid, but how we, as a community, finally got everyone in.