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Homelessness in California: Gov’t Takes Action to Attack Worsening Problem

Shanesha Franklin has always been a big dreamer. The 30-year-old single mother says, for as long as she can remember, helping youth has always been close to her heart.

Then in 2013, she found herself in a situation where she needed a little help herself. She became one of 20,451 African Americans living in Los Angeles with no place to call home. It was a difficult time, she remembers. For eight months, she had no permanent place to live.

“One of my biggest things was not to play the victim.” Franklin shares, “I stayed focused on my greatest dreams and my purpose.”

Franklin says she became homeless while she was a student attending Pasadena City College. With no steady income and a number of financial and academic obligations, she found herself homeless with her four-year-old son, living in a local shelter.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Californi has the highest unsheltered homelessness rate in the nation. More than 60 percent live on the streets. Nearly half of the homeless men, women and children in Los Angeles County are African American.

Stories of homelessness, like Franklin’s, are becoming more and more common across the state. They are heart-tugging accounts of everyday people, many of them hard-working, who lose their permanent residences because of job loss, mental illness, addiction, skyrocketing rents or unaffordable mortgages.

In Sacramento, homelessness has quickly become a priority among elected officials and a hot-button issue that California’s voters are eager to address. Gov. Jerry Brown, for example, has introduced a plan to dedicate a $2 billion bond that would be administered at the local level to address homelessness in cities and towns across the state.

“Local land use decisions surrounding housing production have contributed to low inventories — even though demand has steadily increased,” the governor said when he announced the plan.

However, there has been some push back on the governor’s proposal. Some people are concerned funds will come from money raised from Prop 63, passed in 2004. That money was originally allocated for the mentally ill. The state has already been criticized by the Little Hoover Commission because it has not be able to track how money raised by Prop 63 has been spent.

According to The Sacramento Bee, Rose King, a political consultant who helped write Proposition 63 legislation, expressed concern that this new development will take away funds from what they were originally earmarked for.

“We totally oppose this,” said King in a Sacramento Bee interview.

In Los Angeles, where homelessness is a severe problem, local politician have suggested a “Millionaire’s Tax” that would generate an estimated $250 to 300 million to fund solutions to the problem. Although the Los Angeles County government released findings of a survey in April that reveals 76 percent of county residents support the tax, getting it approved is still a long shot. Under California law, the governor and both houses of the legislature would have to grant L.A. County the authority to tax income.

Even with hurdles ahead, some officials in L.A county remain focused on fixing the problem. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas says homelessness in the “City of Angels” has seen a 5 percent increase and urgent action is needed.

“It won’t get better unless we have significant intervention,” he said.

“Each member of this board has said repeatedly that one-time funding isn’t sufficient. Now it’s time to get on with the rigorous exploration of the kind of funding that would be necessary.”

More than 150 people testified at a Los Angeles’ Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, May 17, urging action on the homelessness problem.

“Today, approximately 1.5 million low-income California households pay more than half their income in rent, leading to a strained ability to pay for other household expenses,” according to a Department of Finance report. “Furthermore, the lack of an adequate housing supply, which inflates housing costs overall, has helped to foster a high homeless population.

According to the California Department of Finance, the rising cost of living in the Los Angeles metro area is only exacerbating the homeless problem.

In 2015, although California comprised 12 percent of the nation’s population, it had 21 percent (115,700) of individuals experiencing homelessness in the United States.

Black Californians agree that homelessness is a serious problem. According to a recent survey of 800 black voters, conducted by the African American Voter Registration Education Participation (AAVREP) project, 88 percent of responders identified homelessness as a “top policy project.”

H.D Palmer, deputy director, External Affairs, at the Department of Finance, gave a breakdown of how the bond money will be allocated.

“Funding is split between a competitive program ($1.8 billion) and a non-competitive program ($200 million) to finance construction, rehabilitation, or preservation of permanent supportive housing units for individuals with mental health supportive needs who are homeless or at risk of homelessness,” said Palmer.

“The competitive program,” he added “ will be administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) to award loans. The non-competitive program will be available to all counties proportionate to the number of homeless persons within each county to be distributed by the California Housing Finance Agency on a first-come, first-served basis.”

According to Palmer, $263 million has already been allocated for the 2016-2017 year to the HCD to distribute the first round of awards.

“The cost of doing nothing is too high, both in terms of funding and human misery,” said Marsha Temple, executive director of the nonprofit Integrated Recovery Network.