Council Supports Sales Tax Measure to Combat County Homeless Crisis

By: 
Sean Belk

The Long Beach City Council has unanimously put its support behind a Los Angeles County ballot initiative, known as Measure H, that proposes a quarter percent sales tax increase across the county for a 10-year period to fund regional efforts to prevent and combat homelessness.

The countywide sales tax measure, which will be decided by voters in the March 7 election, will not affect sales taxes in Long Beach, however, until after the sixth year of implementation, according to city officials, who provided information on the measure at the Feb. 7 city council meeting.

City officials noted that Long Beach, like seven other cities in the county, has already reached its limit on allowable sales tax increases after voters last year passed Measure A, which increased sales taxes for 10 years to fund infrastructure and public safety needs.

Under the city’s measure, which passed with about 60 percent of voters in favor, sales taxes will be increased 1 percent for six years, raising the sales tax from 9 percent to 10 percent, and then a half percent for four years, raising the sales tax to 9.5 percent.

City officials noted that, if Measure H passes, the county’s quarter percent sales tax increase won’t go into effect in Long Beach until after Measure A has commenced its six-year period.

Still, the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously 9-0 to support Measure H, which city officials indicated will help level the playing field for city sales taxes across the county and provide a new source of funding for needed services to prevent and combat homelessness that continues to grow in Long Beach and across the region.  

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and other city officials said the county sales tax measure, if passed, will help provide new resources and additional funding to the city for needed programs, such as a year-round homeless shelter, permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing and mental health and substance abuse services.

“We currently do not have these resources to be able to do this really important work in the years ahead,” he said. “I just want to remind us. Every person experiencing homelessness has a name. They have parents. They have people they love in their life. They are individuals, and they deserve our respect and our support.”

According to proponents, if passed, the measure will invest $355 million a year for 10 years in “solutions that have been proven to prevent and end homelessness,” such as: homeless prevention services; supportive services, such as mental health care and job training; and long-term solutions, such as permanent housing.

The goal of the measure, according to ballot information, is to end homelessness for 45,000 families and individuals across LA County within five years and prevent homelessness for 30,000 individuals and families, including women, children, veterans, seniors, foster youth and survivors of domestic violence, over the same time period.

Another goal is to create a comprehensive regional plan with strategies to prevent and combat homelessness on a countywide level.

Los Angeles County currently has a gap of about $450 million per year in unmet homeless services and housing needs in addition to the county’s current investment, according to city and county officials, who added that a recent countywide study found that the county’s population of homeless and unsheltered individuals has grown in recent years.

In Long Beach, there were 2,345 individuals experiencing homelessness in the city in a homeless count conducted in 2015, according to Kelly Colopy, director of the city’s health and human services department. She said 94 were unsheltered veterans and 731 were chronic unsheltered individuals.

Colopy said the health department couldn’t speculate on whether there has been a rise in homelessness in recent years, adding that the results of a homeless count conducted earlier this year won’t be available until at least April.

Still, she said the city’s “continuum of care” system, which uses a multitude of government resources and a mixture of public health agencies, provides services on average to about 1,100 individuals and families per month or about 13,000 client contacts per year through the city’s multi-service center, which receives about 90 to 100 calls for service each month.

Colopy said the city allocates about $10.9 million a year in services for individuals and families experiencing homelessness through the continuum of care system, which receives federal funding through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). She noted the city recently received $7.6 million from HUD for the system for the next year.

Herlinda Chico, a representative of Fourth District LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who co-sponsored the ballot measure, said that, despite concerns about increasing taxes, the revenue generated will go a long way to provide solutions to a regional, long-term problem. She said a quarter percent sales tax increase would amount to an extra dime on the price of a $40 sweater or a dollar on the cost of a $400 TV.

“Voters know that this is no longer a problem isolated to skid row or even the City of LA,” she said. “Encampments are in communities including Long Beach. I know there are some who have reservations about adding to the sales tax, but know that homelessness is already costing taxpayers in ways that are less productive and more painful . . .  We are asking for this small sacrifice that will allow us to attack the causes of homelessness and provide real solutions.”

Still, at least one Long Beach resident raised concerns about whether raising sales taxes would impact people of less financial means the most.

“I hope this goes where it’s supposed to go,” said resident Robert Peete. “As far as the people just barely making it, this is going to hit me hard.” 

He said government officials have been discussing addressing homelessness for several years but have yet to move on handling the issue completely.

“If we’re going to do something then do it,” Peete said. “I’ve been hearing stuff for years. I want to see something be done.”

sean@beachcomber.news

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Beachcomber

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