'Housing for the homeless' vote goes to the LA City Council

The Los Angeles City Council and the County Board of Supervisors will vote today on a pair of plans aimed at ending homelessness, chiefly by making permanent housing available to tens of thousands of people who are homeless.

When the plans were released in January, county and city officials said they laid out a path for improving coordination among service providers and government agencies, setting up a centralized case management system to direct the homeless to services, and pushing a "housing first'' approach, as opposed to the shelter-focused strategy that has long been used.

For the city, which has more than half of the estimated 44,000 homeless people in the county, the strategic plan lays out ways in which about $100 million in city funds could be spent in the upcoming year, and potentially $1.8
billion over the next decade.

City leaders, including Mayor Eric Garcetti and several City Council members, announced a plan last year to dedicate about $100 million in city general funds toward homelessness.

"With this blueprint, the city is going to commit itself to move forward with the short- and long-term plans on better addressing homelessness,'' said City Councilman Jose Huizar, who co-chairs the Homelessness and Poverty Committee.

Huizar's co-chair on the committee, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, said the plan also represents "unprecedented level of focus and commitment of getting to zero homelessness.''

If the city's strategic plan is adopted, "the real test'' will be in how the city will come up with the $100 million, which may require that other city expenses be scaled back, according to Huizar. "The real critical piece is going to come when we discuss the budget for the next fiscal year and put some money behind the recommendations,'' he said.

Huizar said some of those budget discussions may include looking at how much the city will spend on enforcement of laws that directly affects people living on the streets, such as a controversial law adopted last year that makes it easier for the city to remove items from the streets and dismantle encampments.

Some advocates for the homeless who live in the Skid Row area in downtown Los Angeles, have criticized the plan as failing to address how the city enforces such laws.

Eric Ares, a community organizer with Los Angeles Community Action Network, said there are no guidelines for how police officers should interpret such laws in the 200-plus pages of the city strategic plan, which includes one
page devoted to the role of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Ares said the issue of enforcement should not be a separate conversation from that of the strategic plan, adding that he feels city officials were "very, very intentional about trying to talk about them (homelessness and
enforcement) separately,'' Ares said.

A controversial law, known as 56.11, that would make it easier for city officials to throw away items, such as homeless encampments, that are left on sidewalks will not be part of today's vote, and will likely be considered by the Homelessness and Poverty Committee later this month or in early March.

Ares said a detailed plan for enforcement should be added to strategic plan, noting that negative encounters with police officers, who often accompany service providers, deters many who are homeless from taking advantage of

Criminal records or citation records may also make it more difficult for the homeless to qualify for certain services, Ares said.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is also expected to vote on their draft plan, which includes 47 recommendations covering six goals, which are to prevent homelessness, subsidize housing costs, increase income, provide case management and services, create a coordinated system for homeless services and increase affordable housing.

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