For those of you who have followed the Business Journal (LBBJ) for all or part of our nearly 30 years as an independent voice for business, you recognize that we are not a fan of taxes. Often, our opposition is because there is no guarantee the additional revenue is to be spent as promised.
In fact, in 2000 the LBBJ was instrumental in pushing for the biggest tax cut ever in Long Beach, slashing the utility users tax in half – saving every business and every resident a considerable amount of money, and forcing city government to live within its means by cutting the fat, streamlining operations and getting creative in how it presents services to the public. For the most part, elected officials and city management have done a good job with taxpayers’ dollars during the past 16-plus years.
On occasion, however, a tax proposal comes along that deserves a closer examination. One such proposal is Los Angeles County Measure H on Tuesday’s ballot. Its purpose is to “prevent and combat homelessness” through a countywide effort instead of a city-by-city approach. The measure calls for a 0.25% (one-quarter) increase in the current sales tax for a 10-year period. Due to state law and the already higher tax paid in the city, Measure H impacts Long Beach taxpayers for just the last four of those 10 years. The tax is expected to generate $355 million annually to be allocated to the 88 cities in the county.
But that is not enough of an explanation to support a tax increase. So we dug deeper to learn what city staff is doing now to address homelessness, how much money the city is spending and to ensure the money is being spent appropriately. For those of you who are anti-tax or are leaning against Measure H, we encourage you to take a few minutes to read the responses to our questions provided by Kelly Colopy, director of the Long Beach Health & Human Services Department.
We acknowledge there is no magic wand to wave to address homelessness, but it is simply unacceptable for us to not do our very best to help our fellow citizens. We encourage you to support Measure H.
How many homeless people has the city identified? Is the number growing?
The homeless count in 2015 found approximately 2,345 people experiencing homelessness; 731 of those were chronic homeless and 94 were unsheltered veterans. We conducted our 2017 count in January. Those numbers are being tabulated and will be available in April. We do not have any more recent comprehensive data to determine if numbers are going up or down. We do know that calls to the Multi Service Center (MSC is a “coordinated entry system” that provides “intake and assessment”) have increased by 90 to 100 per month.
Mayor Robert Garcia announced a while back that his goal was to find housing for all veterans. What’s the status?
We have achieved functional zero for homeless veterans, which means we have housed all those who have wanted to be housed, and we have the capacity to house any others we meet. As you know, the numbers fluctuate. We implemented a coordinated process with the VA, US Vets, and our MSC to identify and ensure the veterans on our streets are housed. In the past two years, we’ve housed over 200 veterans.
Does Long Beach help any homeless person, even if they come from another city?
The Multi Service Center primarily serves individuals and families in Long Beach. The Coordinated Entry System for our region is located in San Pedro. The lead agency for the region, Harbor Interfaith, is also co-located at the MSC. We coordinate closely with them in this regional effort and refer those from outside Long Beach to services through that access point using a warm handoff approach.
How does a homeless person become aware of services available?
Our outreach network proactively canvases the city to share information. We have the “Pocket Guide” to homeless services that is widely distributed to individuals and organizations throughout Long Beach, and our partners and local businesses have information. The information is also available on the department’s website.
How many city/contract staff are involved in the city’s homeless effort? What percentage of total money is for staff and what percentage is for services?
The Continuum of Care (CofC) funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds 11 organizations to implement 20 projects including permanent supportive housing, transitional and rapid rehousing, domestic violence services, and other supportive services such as employment training. These are all direct service models. City and CofC funds also support our team at the MSC, including outreach workers and case managers who provide services for clients directly. We have 7 administrative staff who monitor over 30 contracts, oversee grant administration and system performance reporting, operate the homeless management information data system, and oversee the finances. Overall, about 85% of funding goes to direct services, leaving about 15% to support the administrative requirements.
Part of the money is allocated for “outreach.” Is that outreach performed by city staff or is it contracted out? If contracted out, which organization has the contract, how much is the contract for, and what is it doing to earn the money?
There are a total of 5 city funded outreach workers. One is a contracted position, funded through the General Fund in the amount of $60,000. Lutheran Social Services is the provider. There are 4 more outreach workers on the city team that are funded through existing grants. The 5 staff are a part of a larger outreach network, a multidisciplinary team comprised of funded and unfunded partners who conduct outreach to those who fit their services provisions. The outreach network responds to calls for service and also proactively canvases the city to engage people who are living in places not meant for human habitation to offer linkages to housing and support services.
In a recent press release, it was stated that the Long Beach Continuum of Care “will fund 11 organizations that collectively provide 20 projects . . .” Please send us the list of the organizations and the list of projects.
Please see attached pdf for a complete list and dollar amounts.
If Proposition H passes, how much money would Long Beach receive?
This has not been determined. L.A. County will be implementing a 50-person taskforce to determine how funds will be distributed. We are working on identifying our needs within the strategies outlined in the ballot measure. Measure H will provide much needed funding for all the communities in the county and will help address it both on a local and regional basis. In addition, given our current tax rates, Long Beach will not see an increase in taxes for the first 6 years and then the increase will be partially offset in the reduction of Measure A tax rate however, we will benefit from the outset.
According to Long Beach Assistant Finance Director Lea Ericksen, the current Fiscal Year 17 city budget has $824,782 in ongoing monies set aside to address homeless issues, in addition to a one-time appropriation of $897,976. The majority of funding comes from grants and community donations. In FY 17, that’s more than $9 million, of which $7.5 million is from the U.S. Housing & Urban Development Department.