City task force calls for $220 million in funding for homeless crisis

A city task force focused on the homeless crisis released a comprehensive report on Wednesday calling for more than $220 million in funding for efforts including expanding the number of shelter beds, assisting tenants in relocation and building more than 2,000 low-income housing units.

The 26-page report comes from the Everyone Home Long Beach Taskforce, which was assembled in June and is comprised of local leaders and those who have experienced homelessness.

The task force, chaired by Long Beach State President Jane Close Conoley, met five times over six months this year with the goal of building on the city’s current efforts while identifying new ways to address homelessness.

In an interview on Wednesday, Mayor Robert Garcia said this is the city’s largest and most detailed report on homelessness in over a decade.

“There is no bigger issue in Long Beach than addressing homelessness,” he said. “It’s the biggest issue that we face in the city and it’s also the biggest issue that we face as a state.”

In a first for Long Beach, the report sets a clear goal for the number of affordable homes that would be needed over the next five years and the estimated funding, he said.

“We wanted to have specific recommendations and targets so we can keep ourselves accountable in the years ahead,” Garcia said.

An estimated 4,000 people fall in and out of homelessness in Long Beach each year. The 2017 homeless count identified 1,208 as unsheltered and nearly 700 as chronically homeless. More than half suffered from mental illness or substance abuse.

While the number of homeless has dropped 41 percent since 2011, the city still needs significant resources to address the ongoing issue by expanding prevention and mental health resources, improving agency coordination and setting clear goals for affordable housing, the report found.

The city has allocated $30 million for the 2019 fiscal year for services, shelter and housing, but the funds provide minimal money for prevention, mental health treatment and additional housing, the report said.

The report found that while the city plans to open a 125-bed year-round shelter by 2020, it would still need an additional 375 beds including capacity for families, youth and other populations.

The report also set the goal of having 2,000 low-income units built or in the pipeline by 2023. That’s in addition to the 800 affordable units currently in the pipeline.

Garcia said the city will explore options for local and state funding, noting that Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom has vowed to make homelessness a top priority next year. And while talks are in the early stages, the City Council has considered possible bond measures, he added.

Top goals for the task force include:

Increasing Funding: Securing an additional $220 million in capital funding and $25 million in ongoing funding from local and other sources. That would include $170 million for 2,000 low-income units, $17 million for 200 permanent supportive housing units and $30 million to purchase buildings for shelter and other programs.

Strengthening Governance: Restructure the city’s Continuum of Care Board to serve as an umbrella to coordinate with the many agencies involved. Expand data-sharing across homeless service systems.

Improving Housing Access: Provide zoning accommodations to developers who wish to convert existing motels into permanent supportive housing. Adopt an ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on housing subsidy and provide incentives for housing providers to accept tenants with subsidies. Expand the number of rent-stabilized units and get commitments from every council district to provide for a certain number of affordable housing units.

Homeless prevention: Reduce the number of people falling into homelessness to 1,500 or fewer by 2023 through prevention efforts targeting people on the brink of homelessness. Recommendations include having a tenant relocation assistance program that helps households impacted by rising rents. Proactively identify buildings at risk of rent increase and require building owners to notify the city.

Employment: Partner with the city’s Workforce Development Board for job training options. Create 600 job opportunities for people who are homeless and 240 job opportunities for homeless youth by 2021.

Support for Families: Create at least 400 new childcare slots for very low-income and homeless parents by 2021 and increase support for families experiencing domestic violence.

Mental health and substance abuse: Triple the number of detox beds for Long Beach residents to 30 by 2021 and implement a sobering center by 2020. Partner with LA County and the state to implement a detox center and increase the number of recuperative care beds. Explore establishing a safe needle-exchange program.

Some homeless residents in Downtown on Wednesday said the city needs more mental health resources.

A resident who goes by the name “Q” said he was previously homeless but found a home on Cherry Avenue with help from the MHA Village, a recovery program run by Mental Health America of Los Angeles.

Q said the city needs more programs like the MHA Village because many mentally ill aren’t capable of staying in crowded shelters. He said he now spends his free time in Downtown helping others find resources.

“They need help fast because the longer you stay out here, the more mental you become,” he said.

Health and Humans Services Director Kelly Colopy said the city is already working on many of the task force’s recommendations and will provide updates for the City Council. The city, she added, is negotiating for a possible location for its year-round homeless shelter and is expected to make an announcement in the near future.

The task force report will go before the City Council for approval on Tuesday.

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Kelly Puente is an award-winning general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. She has worked as a journalist in Long Beach since 2006, covering everything from education and crime to courts and breaking news. Kelly previously worked at the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Orange County Register before joining the Post in 2018. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].