Measure H expected to raise $355-M annually for homeless services, prevention
FILIPINO-American David Abaya spent the past seven years roaming the streets of Los Angeles after his parents kicked him out of the house for abusing drugs and alcohol.
Abaya, 33, recounted that losing a steady source of income and a roof over his head led to a deeper dependence on various substances.
However, his circumstances changed last year when he was taken in by Special Service for Groups (SSG) Alliance — a nonprofit health and human service organization in downtown LA — which has guided him towards a road to recovery and a more stable housing situation.
“They have helped me with shelter, clothes and housing. I’ve been very blessed because without it, I would still be on the streets, doing drugs, relapsing and not being able to back myself up or have financial stability,” he told the Asian Journal, proudly sharing that he is marking six months of sobriety.
This coming Tuesday, March 7, community organizations such as SSG Alliance have a stake in the local election as a ballot measure could bring additional much-needed resources to them so they can have the backing to continue assisting more individuals like Abaya.
One of the items voters in Los Angeles County will decide on is Measure H (“Los Angeles County Plan to Prevent and Combat Homelessness”), which would raise the sales tax by one-quarter of a cent in all cities within the county.
In turn, the expected revenue of $355 million annually will go to homeless services — prevention, support like mental health care and job training, and permanent housing — over the next 10 years.
Proponents of the measure estimate that it will prevent homelessness for 30,000 individuals and end it for 45,000 across the county within five years. Those individuals include, but are not limited to, children, foster youth, seniors, battered women, the disabled and veterans.
In 2016, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) estimates that 46,874 people experienced homelessness, which was nearly a 6 percent increase from the year before.
The complexity of homelessness in AAPI communities
Of that figure, only 726 were categorized as Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). Since last September, 5 percent of 1,700 young adults (age 18-25) self-reported that they identify as AAPI, according to LAHSA’s youth systems integration manager, Angela Rosales.
Many organizations serving AAPIs say the 726 count is not very representative and does not capture the nuances of the population, including a breakdown of specific ethnicities, such as Filipino, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese, among others.
“What is distinct is that there are a lot AAPIs who are not part of the statistic of the 700-some AAPIs who are homeless in LA County. There are far more in the normal population who are hidden homeless because of the stigmas, especially on mental health and substance abuse,” said Chris Ko, director of homelessness initiatives for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, which is one of the lead advocates of Measure H.
According to LAHSA, the factors of chronic homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse, and physical disabilities contribute to a large share of the general homeless population.
Many AAPIs may not fit under the widespread image of homelessness (e.g. living on the streets or in encampments) and could be couch surfing, living in their cars, or cycling in and out of shelters.
“Their homelessness episodes don’t always fit the mainstream definition so sometimes they lose out in terms of housing voucher applications or qualifying for benefits,” Trang Hoang, division director of the SSG Alliance, said. “It’s important for us to broaden the definition and look at the different categories of homelessness. Homeless services aren’t so clear cut and finding housing isn’t always the primary solution for a particular individual.”
For the Fil-Am community, the issue is more about finding sustainable and affordable housing, given that many — especially newer immigrants — may be on the brink of homelessness.
“Many Filipinos, when they come here, they’re living with relatives or are trying to get their feet on the ground. They’re often in jobs that are low paying and they have to find a way to live,” Grace Weltman, founder of Communities in Motion, said.
Another matter is that Fil-Ams who work in home health care may be dependent on their employers for housing. If the individuals they’re taking care of pass away, they could be left without a home.
Like other AAPI cultures, it is typical for Fil-Ams not to be vocal about their financial problems and not access public assistance.
“Luckily Filipinos have support systems through our families and people we know from our hometowns in the event of certain crises. But things like Measure H and Proposition HHH are there to provide real, sustainable resources to make sure that if you reach a crisis, you don’t have to ask your tito (uncle) or tita (aunt) for some money or to live in their living room for a month,” said Michael Nailat, program officer for Home for Good, a partnership between United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.
(Proposition HHH was passed in the city of LA last November to fund housing projects for the homeless.)
In recent years, more encampments have expanded on the streets of Historic Filipinotown. Though the neighborhood is not a centralized hub for the Fil-Am population in LA County, compared to areas like Koreatown, Fil-Ams who support Measure H urge other voters to recognize that homelessness is a prevalent problem that impacts the community, even if it is considered taboo to talk about it.
“It’s affecting the local economy. I used to be able to walk with my grandmother to the local market in Historic Filipinotown…but now when I go there, there is a huge homeless population,” Weltman said. “I think it’s also time for the Fil-Am community to also get involved to see what we can do collectively to address this regional problem.”
Nailat added that it is important the community knows that there are resources available to treat mental health issues, which could go a long away in lessening chronic homelessness.
“People tend to find it harder and harder to pull themselves out of these situations,” he said. “It’s really about thinking of the health of the Fil-Am community as a whole…and part of that and making sure that Fil-Ams are not growing in ranks in terms of the homeless population is to really value the access to resources now and that we support the nonprofits in the community like Pilipino Workers Center, Filipino American Service Group, Inc., and Search to Involve Pilipino Americans.”
Because of the low reported figures — compared to say, African Americans who comprise 39 percent of the homeless data — AAPIs anticipate that Measure H will bring more funding and resources to the organizations helping their communities’ homeless populations.
“The shame around issues like mental health comes from the idea that it is a death sentence for that person so we try to distance ourselves from that, but what I want to say is that lives can be restored,” Ko said. “Asian communities typically have fewer resources to help, so that’s why additional support and investment are important.”
Get out the vote
For Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) trustee Mike Eng, if Measure H gets the two-thirds majority needed to pass, he wants to assemble all the elected AAPIs in the county to hold a roundtable and demand that those services be allocated to their communities.
“The stereotype is that Asians are not homeless, that is wrong. Number two is that Asians don’t vote for tax increases. That is wrong because they will vote if they see how this will benefit their community,” Eng said.
Though opposition against Measure H is not as vocal as the organized support (over $1 million had been raised in favor of it as of January, according to the Los Angeles Times), some critics argue that this will make sales taxes even higher and the 10,000 units of proposed housing would benefit only a small percentage in relation to the greater homeless population.
The measure also calls for the creation of an independent Citizens’ Oversight Advisory Board and annual audits to ensure that the funds are allocated for their intended purposes.
“The tax is really, really small but it goes a long way,” Nailat said. “We want to make sure that, especially with the uncertainty on the federal level, we support these local efforts because we know what our community needs.”
Leading up to next Tuesday, March 7, AAPIs are reminding registered voters in their communities that there is an election. Though it may not have been as publicized as the general election in November, the initiatives on the ballot will be more impactful locally.
“The easiest thing that can help homelessness is also the most impactful thing. Literally voting on March 7 will make the biggest difference,” Ko said. “There’s never been one single act that has honestly had a bigger effect on homelessness than this.”
Asian Journal editor Christina M. Oriel wrote this story with support from New America Media.