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L.A. County supervisors balk at expanding homeless program

May 27, 2009|Christopher Goffard and Molly hennessy-fiske

Amid questions about cost, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors balked Tuesday at a proposed dramatic expansion of a pilot program designed to shepherd the chronically homeless into housing.

Instead, the board voted to explore the potential costs of using Project 50 -- the two-year project launched in November 2007 to find and house Skid Row's 50 most vulnerable people -- as a model for a countywide project targeting 500 homeless people.

Backers of Project 50, which has a $3-million budget over two years and housed its 50th person in February, say the costs are largely offset by money saved in avoided hospitalizations and jail visits.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who championed the project and its expansion, argued that the program has been successful so far and "has not cost us practically anything."

The proposed expansion would target the chronically homeless throughout the county, including such areas as Venice, Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley.

"We know enough to know that this is working," Yaroslavsky told the board during an animated debate.

The board endorsed the program's expansion in theory but insisted that further study was necessary, including a full financial accounting of Project 50.

"Why can't we establish what the net county cost is?" said Supervisor Don Knabe. "You can't just keep saying everything is going to pay for itself, particularly in this climate."

After the board meeting, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said expanding the program was premature.

"What does Project 500 mean against the range of other options the county has, and should this be our premiere program?" he said.

Yaroslavsky pushed for approval Tuesday, citing the need to serve homeless people who already have qualified for the program.

"There is an urgency to deal with individual human beings now," he said. "One of the reasons Project 50 has been so successful is it gave us a road map. I expect we will get to 500."

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christopher.goffard @latimes.com

molly.hessessy-fiske @latimes.com

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