A Tax to Help Homeless

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Mr. Ridley-Thomas

With a unanimous vote, the County Board of Supervisors declared homelessness an emergency in Los Angeles County, and asked voters to approve a March 7 ballot measure aimed at financing desperately needed solutions.

One of the first acts of the 40 percent new Board, it came in response to motions by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and after impassioned testimony from a capacity crowd.

“All around us, we find human beings living in utter squalor – a shocking number of them families with children,” Mr. Ridley-Thomas said. “With this historic vote, we are taking a bold step towards ending this humanitarian crisis, the defining civic issue of our time.”

Voters will be asked to approve a quarter-cent sales tax that would raise about $355 million annually over a decade. “To put this funding in perspective, a quarter-cent sales tax would translate into an additional tax of 10 cents on the purchase of a $40 sweater, or $1 on the purchase of a $400 television,” explained Phil Ansell, director of the County’s Homeless Initiative.

If approved by two-thirds of voters, the ballot measure would fund rental assistance, subsidized healthcare, mental health and substance abuse treatments, and other services to help people get off – and stay off – the streets.

“The emergency declaration, which I co-authored with Supervisor Ridley Thomas, reinforces the County’s strong commitment to addressing – and solving – the homeless crisis in a compassionate way that will emphasize rehabilitation, mental health, alcohol/drug treatment and housing opportunities,” new Supervisor Kathryn Barger said.

“This is the time to act to provide a dedicated revenue stream to begin to address the incredible crisis that we have with 47,000 people sleeping on our streets,” added new Janice Hahn, who co-authored Mr. Ridley-Thomas’s motion for a March 7 ballot measure.

Both motions drew support from elected officials, as well as a coalition of 75 organizations representing advocates for the homeless; leaders of business, philanthropic, academic and faith-based communities; labor unions, environmentalists, and many others.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein sent a video and letter to the Board, saying, “The ballot measure you plan to put before County voters in March will fund the supportive services that – combined with housing – will help get people off the streets permanently.” Los Angeles City Councilmen Jose Huizar, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Gil Cedillo also expressed support.

Entrepreneur-philanthropist Eli Broad added, “It’s very important that we provide the services that the homeless need, especially the 6,000 homeless children we have in Los Angeles County.”

Alex Johnson of Children’s Defense Fund-California noted children who are homeless or at risk of being homeless are sick four times more often and four times more likely to show delayed development. “This measure would work to ensure all children have the care and stability they need to reach their full potential,” he said.

“The cost of not providing services is too high,” added Marsha Temple of Integrated Recovery Network. “The people experiencing homelessness who are severely disabled by mental incapacity are costing the county well over $1 billion a year.”

Gary Toebben of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce said, “This is not just a social issue, this is also an economic issue. To provide proper care and housing to the homeless is to dramatically reduce the cost of other social services that we need in our community.”

L.A. County Firefighters Union Local 1014 President Dave Gilotte pledged solidarity with the Board, saying, “L.A. County finally made a decision today with these five great leaders to say we’re not going to walk past another homeless person and pretend like they don’t exist.”

In an emotional testimony, Reba Stevens, a formerly homeless person, urged the Board to move forward with the March 7 ballot measure. “I’m begging you, it’s what we must do,” she said.

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