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Official: LA County Can House 12,000 Homeless By 2016

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Finding permanent housing for Los Angeles County's chronically homeless and its military veterans on the streets are top priorities for Board of Supervisors, the panel declared on Tuesday as it gears up to tackle the problem.

The county's homeless population is estimated to be 48,000, and a recent study by United Way of Los Angeles' Business Leaders Task Force found that it was 40 percent cheaper to house the homeless, rather than to leave them the streets, where they often become ill, or become unstable and get arrested or abused.

Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Thomas urged the board to work to find permanent homes for 12,000 chronically homeless individuals and 6,000 newly homeless veterans by 2016.

"With the adoption of (the task force's) clear goals and aggressive timeline...Los Angeles County will reaffirm that it has both the will and the way to combat this overwhelming but ultimately solvable problem," said Ridley-Thomas.

Ridley-Thomas said that about 39 percent of the county's homeless population live on the streets of the county's 2nd District, which he represents.

The task force report, "Home for Good," calculates that $875 million in public resources is spent annually to manage homeless in Los Angeles County.

Three-quarters of this amount is consumed by the chronically homeless, who make up about one-quarter of the total homeless population, and typically face serious health, mental health or substance abuse problems.

But the resources that reach the homeless are fragmented and focused on transitional shelter, meals and other near-term needs, according to the report.

"We have simply managed homelessness for years, caring for immediate needs, rather than focusing on ending homelessness," the report concluded.

Instead, the task force recommends, existing resources should be coordinated, combined with state and federal funding, and focused on permanent supportive housing as a first step. Permanent supportive housing combines affordable housing with on-site services, such as mental health treatment, substance abuse prevention, employment opportunities and life training.

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation offered a $13 million grant to the effort last week and today the board lent its support.

"Our objective here collectively is to see how we can breathe life into this report," Yaroslavsky said. "Because what differentiates this report from all the others that we've seen over the years is that this is real, it's realistic, it's doable. Housing 12,000 of the most chronically homeless in Los Angeles County over a period of five years is not a pipe dream."

Supervisor Michael Antonovich abstained from voting, saying he questioned whether enough qualified professionals could be found to provide effective, comprehensive support for the newly housed veterans and others. He also objected to the focus on vets without consideration for youths transitioning out of foster care.

"Dedicating permanent supportive housing to veterans without calling out a priority on transitional not the best use of scarce taxpayer resources to effectively and efficiently prevent homelessness for the greatest number of homeless individuals," Antonovich said.

The board, in a 4-0 vote, asked the county's chief executive office to work with staffers from the health, mental health and social services departments and the Community Development Commission to find ways to implement the task force recommendations. A report is due back in 30 days.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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