Supervisor Shows How Homelessness Can Hit Home

Photo by Larissa Althouse / OUTLOOK County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, addressing the Rotary Club, said the number of homeless in the San Gabriel Valley rose by more than 4,000 last year.
Photo by Larissa Althouse / OUTLOOK
County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, addressing the Rotary Club, said the number of homeless in the San Gabriel Valley rose by more than 4,000 last year.

For Kathryn Barger, the issue boils down to one of her fellow San Marino Titans.
The Los Angeles County District 5 supervisor was recalling a county program that endeavored to place the most vulnerable among the area’s chronically homeless residents in proper apartments instead of shelters, until the Great Recession prematurely pulled the plug on the effort. Speaking to her hometown Rotary Club of San Marino, she told her neighbors that her fight against homelessness and work on mental health issues affects them, too.
Barger, elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2016, said she was reading a news article about the program about a decade ago when a photograph caught her attention. She recognized the homeless man being featured in the story about the program. He was someone she knew at San Marino High School way back when.
“I’m looking at the picture and I’m thinking, ‘How can this be?’” Barger explained to a room so quiet one could virtually hear a pin hit the carpet. “And then it was an ‘Aha!’ moment. Mental health knows no boundaries. It doesn’t matter your socioeconomics. It doesn’t matter your ethnic background. This man had a family and he was doing well. His mental health went undiagnosed and it took the best of him.”
Since being elected, Barger has used her position representing the largest of the county’s five districts to advocate for greater and more effective intervention to help the county’s homeless population, not least by leading the charge to place the Measure H sales tax on the March 2017 ballots. That quarter-cent tax, approved by voters, is expected to generate $355 million annually to help fund mental health services as part of homeless intervention.
Job training and, of course, permanent housing are other facets of the county’s actions for the past few years. Barger said as of last week, about 16,000 formerly homeless residents had been placed in permanent housing with assistance from county programs. She added she remains unpersuaded that rent control would alleviate housing instability, preferring instead a more YIMBY — “Yes in My Back Yard” — approach in allowing developers more leeway to build.
“This is a huge step forward,” she said. “I am all about a hand up, not a handout. I don’t believe government should do this alone.”
Barger explained that recent data indicated the number of homeless in the San Gabriel Valley had grown by more than 4,000 last year, most of whom were new to that situation. The latter detail presented an advantage in that newly homeless are typically easier to get back on the right track, but also was indicative of worsening root causes: the rise of living costs with stagnating wages and what Barger considers well-intentioned but misguided reforms to criminal justice. Newer state laws have reduced a number of drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors in an effort to thin out jail populations, but one of the results, Barger claimed, is that those arrested for such drug crimes are basically given tickets instead of going to court and, if convicted, given the option of rehabilitation or jail.
“I argue that it’s setting them up for failure,” she said. “I really believe we are doing a disservice to individuals by enabling them to go down this path.”

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