California legislators came back after their holiday break with gusto. Their focus: to end homelessness. While many of us may be weary after years of promises and not enough action, 2016 appears to be the most promising of all. On Monday, Jan. 4, state senators proposed $2 billion via Proposition 63, the 2004 “millionaires’ tax” for mental health services. The end result, combined with federal and local fund, is to build up to 14,000 housing units for mentally ill homeless people. Also, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León is seeking $200 million over four years from the general fund for temporary rent subsidies to bridge the gap until the new housing is completed.
By all appearances, this is great news for the state as a whole, though there are some dissenters who say that state directives could derail some local progress. As for allocation to local municipalities, those details are murky at best. While Ventura County ranks 11th in general population, it’s not quite clear where its relative homeless population ranks in comparison to other cities. Surely, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, which were listed among the top 25 cities in 2014 with the highest homeless populations in the world, will be a top priority for legislators. Capturing money to help house our mentally ill homeless population is not going to be an easy task but with Ventura County’s 10-year plan to end homelessness to sunset in 2017, the time is now for local elected officials and those who provide services to the homeless to come together and create a strategy to get whatever piece of the pie they can get.
Since the countywide homeless count began in 2007, the homeless population continues to shrink, from 1,961 to 1,417 in 2015. We have seen these numbers decrease through efforts that include reuniting homeless with their families as well as finding them permanent housing. Of the 1,417 currently on the street, 451 people were counted as chronically homeless; 168 stated they had mental health problems. These people are often the most service-resistant and only permanent housing will do — programs just don’t work. While Ventura County suffers from a lack of affordable housing in general, when opportunities come about like this, we can’t emphasize enough how any little bit will help.
While the number of homeless with mental health problems in Ventura County may not be as egregious as San Francisco’s, our mentally ill homeless population deserves the same relative help as any other county’s mentally ill homeless. While we are not unrealistic about the struggle that will certainly ensue over trying to get some funding from the state in this effort, we are also not hopeless.
As service providers and elected officials come together to coordinate the 2016 homeless count (Jan. 26), we hope they take this opportunity to strategize on how to best allocate funding from this effort. We look forward to hearing from them about their next steps and hope that they will not less this opportunity pass Ventura County by.
Volunteers are still needed to help with the homeless count. To sign up, go to www.volunteerventuracounty.org and search Homeless Count.