"I think an investment in a housing voucher for a targeted population will result in that population getting off of public assistance," said Rhorer, who has briefed L.A. County officials about San Francisco's program. "The question is whether or not the county has the funds to finance it adequately.… The housing voucher has to mirror what the housing market is for this population."
As many as half of those who left the program may have been living in neighboring counties and claiming benefits in San Francisco, Rhorer said. That may also be an issue in Los Angeles County but the numbers appear to be smaller, Ansell said.
Los Angeles County already gives some housing subsidies to homeless general-relief recipients who are looking for work or applying for federal aid. The recipients contribute $100 of each monthly grant toward their housing costs, with the county providing an additional $400 a month.
As of mid-February, there were 1,540 subsidies on offer. The county wants to increase the number to 10,000 by December 2014. Half the savings from Knabe's latest proposals would go to the account that pays for the subsidies, with the rest going to the general fund.
If the county decides to replace some stipends with in-kind assistance, the benefit amount would probably increase to $297 a month because of state law, Ansell said. Recipients would be required to find their own housing, although the county may offer some emergency shelter beds or motel rooms for the time covered by the voucher, he said.
Advocates for the poor applaud the emphasis on ensuring that welfare recipients are housed, but worry about unintended consequences.
"Frankly, there aren't a lot of places in Los Angeles County where you can find housing that is that affordable," said John Maceri, executive director of Ocean Park Community Center in Santa Monica. He worries that recipients won't be able to make up the difference, "just creating more homelessness."
Many of those helped by St. Joseph Center in Venice use their cash aid for utilities, gas, bus fare and medicine, said the group's executive director, Va Lecia Adams. She said the elimination of such funds could make them more vulnerable.
The Board of Supervisors has asked County Chief Executive William T Fujioka to come up with a plan by June to implement Knabe's proposals. The supervisors have also asked him to include other recommendations to cut the cost of the general-relief program.