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LAPD Makes Their Move To Take Money Away From The Homeless

Why is the LAPD trying to effectively route Measure HHH funding away from the organizations that can do the most to solve this crisis?

Pictured: not a big group of social workers (source: J R/Flickr)

Los Angeles County voted overwhelmingly to increase our own taxes in order to have the funds necessary to combat the extreme crisis of homelessness that is gripping the region. Measure H, and its counterpart Measure HHH, functionally raise the region’s sales tax by a quarter-cent, and were approved by 69% of voters this past March. This money is explicitly being raised to fund rent for the unhoused, shelters and transitional housing for the unsheltered, and organizations that do outreach and aid with the rehousing process.

So why are the LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department, two organizations that have done the most to exacerbate the homeless crisis over the past two decades through their failed policies of aggressive criminalization of poverty, effectively trying to get a chunk of this money? And what can we do to stop them before they reroute this money towards punitive aims?

Well let’s start by looking at how exactly this money is being distributed. Measure H raises a lot of money; current projections expect that it will generate around $355 million a year for ten years. It is then allocated primarily by the LA County Board of Supervisors in partial conjunction with various city councils in rolling three year chunks. Which is to say that the divisions that are made now will apply through 2021, and then will be reworked for the next three year period.

In order to make delegating the disbursal of the Measure H money possible, the County Board of Supervisors effectively divided it into four big pots. One, worth $260 million, is for paying rent for the homeless or at risk. The second, worth $300 million, goes to emergency housing facilities like shelters. $124 million more goes to keeping people in houses once placed in housing. And the final chunk, worth $166 million over the next three years, is slated to go to outreach and coordination services.

That last chunk? The money you think would go to local non-profits and faith-based organizations that have been underfunded for years and have decades long records of helping the homeless? That’s the money the Sheriffs are after from the county, requesting $1 million to be set aside for six officers.

LAPD is attempting something similar with the City Council’s apportionment of Measure HHH money, but they’re being very sneaky about how they go after it. They are currently asking for existing funding streams for funding outreach and coordination services of around a million dollars to be rerouted towards LAPD HOPE teams. And the city council has to this point gone along with this charade.

Let’s be clear: HOPE teams do not help rehouse the homeless. HOPE teams exist to take the possessions of the homeless to clean up the city’s sidewalks. Regardless of whatever virtue you may find in that policy (and I find none), that clearly has nothing to do with the stated aims of Measures H and HHH. Even favorable coverage of HOPE teams shows that they arrested more people than they placed in shelters. The best that can be said for the Sheriff’s and LAPD’s respective requests is that they are “only” for a little over $1 million a year… but that’s still a lot of money that needs to be going to organizations that actually serve unhoused people.

There are two reasons why, even though the money police are asking for is relatively small, it’s still a non-starter from the policy side. First? Setting the precedent for the police to get any of this money when voters clearly approved the money with the expectation that it was going toward providing services to the homeless is a betrayal of the democratic process. In this case they are avoiding confronting this question directly by taking from existing funds with the expectation that Measure H money will replace them; effectively taking Measure H money while trying to stay under the radar.

Even if the initial ask is small, because the apportionment will come up for review in three years, by getting a foot in the door when it comes to getting some of this money, LAPD can expand its request in a few years, when the spotlight is off of this program. LAPD already receives over 50% of the city’s discretionary budget, and the Sheriffs get 30% of the county’s budget; they do not need this money in order to function. The organizations that should be getting this money do need it.

The second reason is more philosophical. The policies implemented that criminalize homelessness in this city have failed. The exacerbation of the housing crisis our region has been suffering from has changed the dynamic of the unhoused population. We’re past the point where criminality, which was never really the reason for homelessness in the first place, can be trotted out as the reason for the staggering increase in unhoused residents in the region.

Additionally, because of the harsh enforcement policies that have criminalized poverty, unhoused populations do not trust the police. For the extremely poor in this city, an interaction with the police means the confiscation of their property or the risk of a fine or jail time. Why would they trust LAPD to provide them with transitional housing?

We’ve spent two decades relying on the police to function as social workers as a means of saving money, something that serves neither the police (who are ill-equipped to handle the delicate needs of the unsheltered population) nor the unhoused population themselves who are constantly being punished for the crime of being poor. This money is supposed to provide an alternative to our broken status quo.

The LAPD must be prevented from scooping this money up both for the practical purpose of keeping that money going where it needs to go, and to send a message that we’re no longer going to pursue broken policies to deal with this crisis. Hell, the police themselves have said publicly they want to be less responsible for dealing with the homelessness crisis!

Right now, the LA City Council has approved the apportionment of this money; funds that were previously budgeted to alleviate the homelessness crisis are at dire risk of being rerouted to the police.

This is the moment to contact Mayor Garcetti to demand that his office adhere to the democratic process, and ensure that this city deal with its most pressing crisis without turning to needlessly criminalizing the city’s residents. The bill is on his desk and will set the absolute wrong precedent for this city. Let him know that you see what’s happening and you won’t let it stand.