Sun, Jan

County Supe Suggests a Marshall Plan for the Homeless

DEEGAN ON LA-Neither the homeless housing crisis and its related public health dangers, nor the political processes currently being employed to deal with these critical issues, are considered tenable by the LA County Supervisors. 

“We need a Marshall Plan to address homelessness and build shelters and housing on every possible piece of land that we can think of,” County Supervisor Janice Hahn (SD4) (photo above, center) declared a few days ago. It was a stark acknowledgement from a high-ranking politico that what is being done to confront homelessness and the related public health crisis is not sustainable. 

Supervisor Hahn is saying what the general public knows for a fact: the homeless crisis response has been somewhat of a failure when relief is measured against the size of the problem. No matter what the encouraging PowerPoint presentations say about it, the public knows better; the evidence is everywhere you look. 

Hahn’s colleague, Supervisor Kathryn Barger (SD5) added that “It’s not working the way we are doing it. . .we can no longer afford to spend years siting and building a single interim housing facility. We cannot continue to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to create a single unit of permanent supportive housing.” 

To call on a famous “Star Trek” slogan, these two Supervisors “boldly go where no one has gone before” – straight to the Sodium Pentothal, the truth serum that no other LA politico has had the courage to ingest. It’s a sobering revelation that Supervisors Hahn and Barger now speak for millions of county and city residents who are fed up with the filthy sidewalks that house the thousands and thousands of homeless. Even worse, much of the public may be losing empathy for homeless people themselves who are growing in numbers, not shrinking. 

The Marshall Plan was enacted by Congress in 1948 to help reconstruct Western European cities, industries and infrastructure that had been heavily damaged during World War II. Hahn has boldly called for that level of major response. 

So what is the plan? It’s a unanimously approved motion introduced by Supervisor Barger that includes identifying what is called “a private-sector housing expert to oversee the planning.” As envisioned by Barger, this expert would not be “independent from county administration.” Barger believes that “. . .our partners in the private sector know how to get the job done and have the capacity to explore innovative housing models that are faster and more affordable to produce.” 

The motion is clear about the private input: “It is imperative that LA County allows opportunities for public-private partnerships as we develop and implement solutions for housing with supportive services, so that we can best leverage the collective interest of our region to serve those in need.” 

And, like the Marshall Plan, the Supervisors see that time is of the essence, saying, “More than ever, we must now use every tool at our disposal to bring individuals and families experiencing homelessness inside. We can no longer wait to intervene in the humanitarian crisis that plagues every community in LA County.” 

The motion directs Los Angeles County Chief Executive Officer Sachi A. Hamai to “. . .identify a housing expert to provide oversight for the development and implementation of the plan.” This part is tricky: Hamai officially retires in early 2020, just weeks from now. Whoever fills her position will need to act quickly on the homeless and public health crises and identify a private sector partner. The county CEO position and the private sector position are two important jobs that must be filled almost simultaneously if this effort by Barger, Hahn and the other Supervisors is going to work. 

What’s in it for the City of Los Angeles? Barger’s spokesperson told CityWatch that “This effort is county wide. It doesn’t really acknowledge the borders, as most homeless don’t. . .we’re sort of all in this together. The City of LA could use this tool as well. The City is impacted and benefited.” 

Will 2020 be a better year for the homeless? That dream has gone up in smoke before, which makes what the Supervisors are proposing even more critical.


(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose DEEGAN ON LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appear in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.