"If we don't address the homeless on the street, people will feel as though they were ripped off," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
Barger was expressing the mixed feelings of many county and city officials as they contemplate public reaction to the growing number of homeless living in sidewalk tents, public parks and under freeways. She spoke Thursday at a lunch at the Palm downtown at the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum, organized by public affairs consultant Emma Schafer.
Barger, whose Fifth District reaches from the San Gabriel Valley to the Antelope Valley, is one of five county supervisors. They are in charge of social welfare policy in the nation's most populous county and are on the cutting edge of dealing with the homeless crisis. With the Board of Supervisors support, county voters in 2017 approved Measure H, which raised the sales tax a quarter of a cent to raise $355 million a year to provide mental and physical health aid to the homeless as well as some housing. At the same time, voters in Los Angeles passed Measure HHH that authorized $1.2 billion in bonds to build housing for the homeless.
But bureaucracy moves slowly, even to spend money, and the homeless increase.
Thus Barger, a moderate Republican, joined with two liberal Democrats on the board, Janice Hahn and Mark Ridley-Thomas, an African-American who represents some of the county' s poorest areas, to support an appeal of a federal court decision that would continue to permit the homeless to camp in public areas. Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda L. Solis, both liberal Democrats voted against the appeal.
Barger said she felt compassion for the homeless. "I never thought I would see a person lying on the street and people walk by," she said. She added that she has done it, herself.
But if the ban on camping holds up, she said, Los Angeles County would have to provide beds for 50,000-60,000 to comply. And many would be for the mentally ill, at a high cost. At present, she said, "We have no way to stabilize these people." Camping would continue until government provided housing.
Angelenos are divided, too. It was a big surprise that voters approved the two big homeless care financing measures. But Barger is correct in predicting that if they don't see results, they will feel ripped off.