The question California voters have to consider when contemplating Proposition 41 on the June ballot is whether $50,000 is a reasonable cost to get a homeless vet off the streets and into stable, supporting housing.
Taking into account what military servicemen and women risk on the country's behalf, we think the answer is "yes."
Proposition 41, the Veteran Housing and Homeless Prevention Bond Act of 2014, would repurpose $600 million of unspent bonds in the state's veterans home loan program to build transitional housing such as apartments and provide services for homeless vets.
As so many homeless advocates know, providing a place to sleep doesn't keep everyone off the streets. For that reason, the program wisely includes services to deal with associated problems such as counseling and care for drug and alcohol addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder.
As the Legislative Analyst's Office noted of Proposition 41, "at least one-half of the funds would be used to construct housing for extremely low-income veterans. These veterans earn less than 30% of the amount earned by the average family in the county where they live."
It's worth noting, too, that our state is home to nearly 2 million veterans and the number is expected to rise by more than 200,000 when the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down. About 25% of the nation's homeless veterans live in California.
If Proposition 41 is approved, there still would be $500 million for the home loan program — plenty to meet the needs of the California veterans looking to buy. Demand for the program has decreased over the last decade because of a combination of factors, including the economic downturn, low interest rates and the availability of other home loan programs for veterans.
Proposition 41 does come with a cost to Californians – about $50 million a year over 15 years, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office.
That $750 million price tag comes out to $50,000 for each of California's estimated 15,000 homeless veterans.
However, taxpayers can reasonably expect that giving veterans an affordable place to live will reduce local and state costs for health care, incarceration and crisis services.
Sheltering and caring for homeless vets has indirect payback to our communities dealing with homeless encampments and public safety issues.
And it directly benefits our societal psyche because it is the right thing to do.
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