The Road Home
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The Road Home

Heidi Marston Advocates State Legislative Committee for Sustainable Funding to Address Homelessness

Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority Executive Director Heidi Marston spoke at the Jan. 21 Assembly Joint Budget & Housing Committee Hearing about strengthening partnerships between the state and local agencies to address the coronavirus pandemic and homelessness crisis head-on. Read her remarks below.

The Crisis in California Facing Local Governments

As you know, homelessness is a crisis across California. Before COVID, there were 150,000 Californians experiencing homelessness, over 66,000 in Los Angeles County alone and COVID is likely to make this crisis worse. Tens of thousands of households have had their lives turned upside down by financial difficulty, illness or, death.

This reality is coupled with local governments having fewer resources to respond to the crisis. In Los Angeles, where we rely on Measure H sales tax revenue to sustain our homeless system, there is projected a $71 million shortfall in Measure H due to the pandemic.

Despite these challenges, through collaboration with our government partners, we have been able to leverage other local, state, and federal resources to respond.

In less than six months, we brought more than 8,000 of our vulnerable neighbors inside through Project Roomkey and other joint efforts.

But the work doesn’t stop there. Our focus now is to permanently house those who have been sheltered through COVID-19 and thousands more, using the recovery roadmap developed with our city and county partners.

What we cannot do post-COVID is go back to the status quo. We must do everything in our power to maintain the momentum we’ve built in sheltering people and do everything we can to re-house them.

The Success of the LA Continuum of Care

In Los Angeles County, our Continuum of Care has built an effective rehousing machine. Over the last three years, we have housed 61,958 people — nearly the same number of people experiencing homelessness during the last homeless count. We have done so by improving coordination among our local government partners.

Last year alone, we housed 205 people every single day, but 225 people fell into homelessness each day. To truly address homelessness, we need an equally powerful homeless prevention machine that keeps people in their homes and a massive affordable housing supply machine creating the units required to bring our unhoused neighbors home.

This body has taken significant steps towards helping us build a system that ends homelessness for good. However, we need more assistance to end homelessness for the thousands of Angelenos still on the streets.

Successes of HEAP and HHAP

Since receiving Homeless Emergency Aid Program funding at the beginning of 2019, it has served over 7,500 people across LA.

We used our HEAP dollars to stand up a problem-solving fund that provides flexible infusions of cash to help people quickly resolve problems that could lead to or prolong homelessness including paying for back rent, security deposits, or car repairs.

We’ve also used HEAP to maintain core parts of our system, including providing needed shelter beds, facilitating placements of families into permanent housing through housing navigation and rapid re-housing, and a host of other services.

Homeless Housing, Assistance, and Prevention Program funding, which we received in the spring of 2020, has already served 2,000 people with similar interventions, including Housing Navigation.

Need for Ongoing Funding and Flexible Interventions

We need the state to provide ongoing funding. We cannot keep having the same budget fights each year, expecting local jurisdictions to stand up new programs with new requirements, then expect sustainable, lasting reductions in homelessness.

We know that homelessness is a crisis that’s developed as a result of decades of underinvestment. We are short 509,000 units of affordable housing in Los Angeles County alone. We need a sustained investment to begin to fill that need.

We also need to bring Continuums of Care to the table to help inform regional policy discussions. CoCs are critical in making sure we can address homelessness through a regional approach, particularly in landscapes with LA with a host of overlapping jurisdictions.

People experiencing homelessness shouldn’t be served based on what side of the street they are on — the CoC can coordinate with counties to leverage critical healthcare and safety net resources, along with cities that regulate land use, and bring all of it together in a holistic approach.

Additionally, providing funding to build on and ensure the long-term success of Project Homekey is critical to addressing homelessness. Project Homekey represents an important leap forward, and we commend the Governor’s office for spearheading that effort. However, we need to create ongoing funding to secure Homekey’s continued success.

AB 71

AB 71, authored by Assemblymember Luz Rivas, Richard Bloom, and Chair Chiu, can help us address these issues.

AB 71 would provide funding to help scale up interventions that we know work like Project Homekey, while also providing the needed funding to operate these sites and invest in solutions like rental assistance and prevention that can get folks housed right now. Over the last two years, our rehousing system has housed about 14,000 people through Rapid Re-Housing programs, and we must build on that success.

Critically, AB 71 would use data to establish measurable goals and target reductions for each jurisdiction that’s awarded funding and establish real accountability mechanisms for jurisdictions to meet those goals. While we’re calling for the state to provide ongoing, stable funding, we know it’s also just as vital to make sure that funding is being used to invest in what works and hold everyone accountable to that.

Finally, AB 71 would increase collaboration between counties, CoCs, and cities in ways that previous proposals have not. As we have shown in Los Angeles County, collaboration is critical to success. If we want to reduce homelessness, we need to ensure that cities, counties, and CoCs are working together to implement a regional strategy.

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