According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, California has the nation’s highest poverty rate (23.4 percent) and the highest child poverty rate (24.8 percent). One-fourth of children in the state live in poverty, including 35 percent of African-American children and 38 percent of Latino children.
For many, the most striking manifestation of poverty is homelessness. It is increasing exponentially. In fact, California has the largest population of homeless children in the country. In 2013, there were 526,708 homeless children in California. In Los Angeles County, approximately 55,000 students are considered homeless, with the highest concentration in grades K-6. And that data from the Los Angeles County Office of Education is self-reported, so the number is most likely higher. The data from the recent homeless count conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reveals that the overall number of homeless individuals in the county increased by 5.7 percent and stands at 46,874. But most experts will say this number represents only a fraction of the homeless population. The increase in Los Angeles County’s homeless population is consistent with the county’s poverty rate of 18.7 percent. While the unemployment rate has decreased to 5.4 percent, underemployment remains an issue.
Hundreds of thousands of families are just one paycheck, illness, eviction or family crisis away from homelessness. We must do more to address this crisis. Our state, city and county policymakers must accelerate their efforts to preserve the social safety net, increase the rate of affordable housing, and ensure the creation of a diverse economy which allows families and communities to thrive.
Earlier this year, Los Angeles County approved a comprehensive homelessness plan aimed at increasing income and affordable or subsidized housing. While the initial price tag is $150 million, the county has estimated that approximately $500 million annually is needed to make a substantive impact on homelessness. The approved county plan leaves an ongoing funding gap.
County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl have proposed directing the chief executive officer to take the first step toward putting a ballot initiative on the November 2016 ballot that, if approved, would impose a modest tax on individuals with incomes of $1 million and higher to try to make up the funding gap.
This is a prudent and logical step that would simply preserve the option to get to a second step in which the supervisors consider a ballot initiative. Polling shows that 76 percent of likely voters would strongly support a ballot initiative to impose a one-half-percent tax on income above $1 million, and 68 percent would support a half-cent transaction and use tax.
On Tuesday, the supervisors will consider the Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl motion. As a statewide organization whose main office is in downtown Los Angeles and just a few blocks from Skid Row, the Children’s Defense Fund-California stands in strong support of this effort to assist homeless children, adults, families, and veterans.
By preserving the option to propose a ballot initiative that will fund targeted programmatic investments, we can preserve families and improve the quality of life for the ever-increasing number of people who find themselves homeless. The urgency of this moment and the moral imperative to act is clear.
Alex Johnson is executive director of the California office of the Children’s Defense Fund.
Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.
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