Wilshire Police Division Going the Extra Mile for the Homeless

TNN:Sgt. Morgan, I know that you've have been assigned as the Wilshire Division liaison for homeless issues in our community, so can you tell us a little bit about that project? 

Sgt. Morgan:At the beginning of this year I was asked to see what else we can do to address homelessness in our division, which is an area of about 14 square miles. Historically, Wilshire is not an area that deals with the homeless at the scale that we see on Skid Row or even on Venice Beach, so we don't have the traditional resources that exist in those 2 locations. We don't have the nonprofit organizations, we don't have the advocacy groups that are there to provide any types of services to the homeless, whether it be legal, housing, even something as simple as food services to individuals. We don't have lots of community organizations, per se, like Natural Ivy here, which is really located in Olympic Division.  It is our intention to help get people off the streets and assist them in some way.

AUGhomelessweb In the beginning of the year, we sat down with a couple of community members who came to us from some of these organizations designed to help the homeless with the intent to develop a community coalition designed to grow these services and gain access to a newly designed system that provides more long-term assistance, long-term housing, rather than the traditional approach of short-term assistance, whether it be overnight shelters, food kitchens, that type of thing, but it's obviously a slow process. [turning to Pernetha:] I'm actually curious about the way your program was able to originate and how long it's taken to get off the ground. 

Pernetha: Well, as far as supportive housing, we've been operating that for 3 years. As far as our Natural Ivy Foundation, it has been in existence since about 1975. We originated from Washington DC, but we're more designed as a community-based organization. We would come into the community and help develop educational programs, after-school programs, community health fairs, developing housing resources but not actually housing individuals. It wasn't until we actually came to this area and saw the need that we figured out that we had to provide housing first. That's when we started the housing program at our facility and for 3 years we've actually been able to sustain our program.

TNN:They have a house and cottages behind the house, which is unusual in our community, so they let people stay there until they transition into other places. 

Pernetha:  The house we have right now used to be a residential care facility. Our model of care is a similar model to a residential care facility model. We have the cottages in the back and that's our starting point for mostly our sick individuals. We start them there, and then once we get them service connected, and once they apply to different agencies, we can refer them to different communities where they can stay until they get more permanent housing. 

TNN: Sgt. Morgan: if I understandyou correctly, the Wilshire division's focus is on connecting to the community and finding ways to grow some of these services? 

Sgt. Morgan:Absolutely.  The city administrative office recently released a report that indicated the city's budget for homelessness or the amount of funding we put towards that issue on an annual basis. It's about $100 million a year.  The estimate is that at least half of that goes towards police services. One of our council members indicated that it's as high as 80% plus towards police services, but despite increased police efforts, we still have a growing homeless population in the city and a rapidly growing number of encampments and of recreational vehicles used as housing for homeless on residential streets.  It's been a very challenging issue that we haven't been able to address just by ourselves. 

We certainly recognize that this is not solely a policing issue. This should be community policing at its best. It should be an engagement of the community to identify the problem, to assess it, to develop solutions collectively, to implement those solutions, and to mitigate any future risks of growth. 

I don't know that we are there yet, and that's what we're trying to do with Mr. Epstein's coalition.  We have a seat at that table and we certainly want to see what can come of this coalition and what we can do to try to provide more long-term assistance for the homeless population. Traditionally, of the homeless individuals that we contact, a large majority decline services because they understand them to be very short-term and temporary solutions and they know they're going to end right back up where they were. 

TNN:So they don't bother.

Sgt. Morgan:  I believe that would be the logic of some. But the resources have changed over the last couple of years, especially for veterans in particular. One of our priorities is certainly veterans and the number of resources available to veterans now - Mr. Epstein can speak to this better than I can - has rapidly developed, and there's no reason why we should have a homeless veteran on the street who isn't offered and receiving some form of assistance, dishonorably or honorably discharged. The resources exist on both sides of that spectrum. 

TNN:One of the calls I received when I started focusing on homelessness and one of the reasons I started focusing on it was because of a call I got from a vet who was just beside himself because he could not get access to veteran's services. 

Sgt. Morgan:We have a recent success story in which one of our officers contacted a homeless individual on the streets, just a few weeks ago, determined that he was a veteran, contacted the VA on his behalf and arranged for transportation a day later, actually assisting in getting him out to the VA in West Los Angeles and ensuring that they accepted him and admitted him into a service program that they have designed for that very purpose. They have additional housing on their campus or their facility for that purpose. 

We certainly try to identify every homeless individual that we contact and if they are willing to accept any services and if they are eligible for any particular services. Another priority of ours would certainly be juveniles. We don't come across very many in our homeless population, but we want to ensure that juveniles who are inherently at greater risk are receiving any possible services available to them to get them off the streets. 

We want to try and engage more community members. The reason why I wanted to sit down with you tonight and bring Mr. Epstein in is because there's a push to develop something in the community, and currently it needs a lot of support in order to grow at any rapid pace. We need to engage the community, whether it's individual activists, individual residents in the area, or we actually have community organizations who are willing to come in and bring resources and bring support behind them, local clergy, anybody that we can get is certainly invited to the table. 

Scott: Yes, absolutely. Sergeant Morgan is right in that midtown is not Venice, and it's not Hollywood, and it's not Skid Row, but if you look at the data, if you looked at the interactive maps that the LA Times did based on the homeless count data, this is a dispersed county-wide issue. 

I've been crunching the numbers and, in the area that we're covering, there's probably at least 800 to 1,000 unsheltered homeless people in our region. That's right here. We're looking at roughly Interstate 10 on the south, Western on the east, Melrose on the north, and La Cienaga on the west. 

Sgt. Morgan:Which happened to coincide pretty well with the 14 square miles that Wilshire is responsible for policing. 

Scott: We think that the count is probably an under count. We identified something like 850 unsheltered homeless, and then there's some sheltered homeless as well, so it gets up to over 1,000 total homeless count. That's some 2.5% of the countywide total of homeless. That's not trivial. That means 1 out of every 40 homeless people in the county are living right here. 

Sgt. Morgan:  In roughly 10 square miles, right?

Scott: Yeah. It's not Venice, but there are lot of people here that need help. Sergeant Morgan's also right in that there haven't been a lot of local resources, so we're trying to grow that out and we have partners. 

Pernetha:  Now, when you say “we” who are you referring to? 

Scott: We’re called the Midtown Los Angeles Homeless Coalition. It started in February. and includes neighborhood councils, government agencies like LAPD Wilshire and the City Attorney's Office, business organizations, the Farmer's Market, the Melrose Business Improvement District. They have committed to coming to meetings for goal setting and planning and keeping our social service provider leaders accountable for results. 

TNN:Who put it together? 

Scott: I'm the chair of the Mid-city West Community Council, which is a neighborhood council that represents Fairfax district. We led on the homeless count and LAPD Wilshire helped us for our area. We were so fortunate in terms of the number of people that we recruited to help with the count that we even covered some areas of greater Wilshire and Pico area. In that process, I got to know some of the leaders in the coordinated entry system and our social service provider partners. They started speaking to me about creating this coalition. 

Up in Hollywood a similar coalition has been happening for quite some time with a good amount of success. Very grass roots, very community oriented. The folks there that were energized kept things going, and kept the social services partners accountable for results, and they estimate that they got maybe a quarter of their homeless population housed. 

TNN:How long did it take? 

Scott: About 5 years I believe. Not trivial. 

TNN:Just by pulling these social organizations together, making them accountable?

Scott: And getting them talk to each other. There are so many. 

TNN: What kind of organizations are we talking about? 

Scott: For us, we're working with The Center in Hollywood, which is a community center for the homeless at the Blessed Sacrament Church. We're working with PATH, which creates housing for homeless folks. We're working with Step Up on 2nd, which is based in Santa Monica but covers a broad region. Then also public agencies like the Department of Mental Health. We hope to work with Veteran's Affairs federal department. All of these different agencies touch the homeless and do outreach work, so partly it's getting everybody that's doing work in this area talking and coordinated.

Also now there's this common intake assessment. Every time an outreach team, whether it's the Department of Mental Health or Broken Hearts Ministry that we're working with, speaks to a homeless person and collects information on them, they’re using the same form, so a countywide data system is being built. All that information will go into the same data system. 

Sgt. Morgan:I think the principle behind all this is that the homeless population is no longer going to be limited to resources available specifically in their area, that we can reach out to other regions because of this coordinated system, this countywide initiative, and offer services not just based on some small geographical region. 

Scott: That's exactly right. The reason we're doing this is to build local capacity. We want to get the people that live in this area engaged, but that doesn't mean that these rather arbitrary lines are going to keep us from getting folks the services that they need. 

TNN:I'm just curious and I know people in our community are: Where do homeless people go to the bathroom?

Pernetha:  That's why Natural Ivy came about because we see people do these things in the cars and in parks. There's no bathroom. Our tree neighborhood is a bathroom. That's why we started just letting them come inside to go to the bathroom really quick or letting them shower. Even though it drains our resources (we could use contributions to help offset our water bill) the only way to solve this is to open our doors. In our area, McDonald's bathroom is a main hub for them washing up and going and panhandling for food. 

That's why we made partners with the grocery stores and the McDonald's, so we can make them aware who these people are and that if they do have food, if you can give them the food, rather than there being a lot of tension and them coming in and causing a ruckus and things like that. We try to be negotiate for them and say okay this person is homeless and they don't have anywhere to sleep.

TNN:That's a question I have for you, too, what about food? 

Sgt. Morgan:I think you touched on the point well when you explained that there are those that rely on business and restaurants that are accepting of it, or even those that are not accepting of it, but they conduct themselves in a fashion where they're able to enter and do their business and leave. There are those who relieve themselves in public. There are those who accept handouts with regards to food. There are those who panhandle for it. There's a small element of that community that will resort to criminal activity in order to be able to survive. 

Obviously, that's yet one more reason why we in law enforcement want to see what we can do to address these underlying issues, because we certainly want to reduce the crime and the community complaints about certain activities going on. We definitely want to avoid any public health hazards that would pose an issue to adults and children in particular. 

Pernetha:  There are a few food banks in our neighborhood close to where we are and they have a certain protocol. Seniors are first priority of course, but they have to know where that is, be able to get to it and have IDs, because you need an ID to get the food. 

There are also individuals who are on the verge of being homeless, people who illegally live in another person's apartment, and are going out and getting an abundance of food and feeding a lot of people that live in their apartments and still not having enough. Those people need support so they won't be homeless. They live in our neighborhood but the price of rents are going up and they're on the verge of being homeless. 

TNN:The thing I've been frustrated by is the lack of imaginative visioning by the politicians to address this issue. They put together a homeless coalition at City Hall and the first thing they did was come up with a harsh new law giving the homeless 24 hours to clear out or be cleared out - medications and personal things could be confiscated. All the council members except one  voted for it.  Then we hear about Utah, which pretty much solved their homeless problem by insisting that homeless people are housed permanently. 

Scott: This is the model that's proven to work, city after city, housing first, permanent supportive housing. This is what gives people the capacity to turn their lives around. If you have people housed then organizations like Natural Ivy can provide all the other services that will help people get back on their feet. You were talking about food, there are resources out there. There is the food stamp program, right? There are a lot of resources that you can plug into once you get people the proper documentation once you can get people housed. That's what works, and it's a much more cost-effective solution. 

Sgt. Morgan:  Right. I was going to touch on that as well, and I think what you're speaking to is what we're starting to see develop now. This is the innovative political solution to a problem that has become very costly and ...

TNN:Has been ignored. 

Sgt. Morgan:An issue that many people have complained about in very different fashions. There are a lot of different approaches from community organizations, advocacy groups, even lawyers, as to what approach should be taken to address homelessness, but I think very few would disagree that permanent housing is the most humane option. It's also proven to be cost effective. It alleviates a lot of the other issues, and it's not just the housing in and of itself being long term, it's the mental health services that go along with that. 

One of our partners, I believe it was Step Up, helped us with an individual we had living at a bus stop for a period of over 6 months. He had an encampment that exceeded the size of the bus stop. People couldn't sit on the bus bench. The health hazard was certainly present. Ultimately, we were asked by members of the community to take enforcement action, but enforcement in and of itself from a law enforcement perspective was not going to solve this problem. No matter how many times enforcement action may be taken, he's ultimately going to return to what he considers his home. 

Not only was there an effort to provide housing to this individual, but there was also help with the mental health aspect. Those two things combined are incredibly powerful. It's something when you contact an individual you've dealt with for an extended period of time and witness first-hand the mental health issues that individual has, to now see them clear and coherent and engaging with you, as you and I are here now. That's an incredible transition.  That's something that we want to see more of. 

TNN:Let me ask you about this law that City Hall passed. I know the mayor has stepped in and said 'Well I don't want to sign this unless you make some changes here, make it more humane'. 

Other people are saying get rid of it all together. I imagine that puts a lot of pressure on the police because now you're feeling empathy for these people and yet you have to go in and sweep them away in 24 hours. What's the response of the police to that? 

Sgt. Morgan:I would say that those issues pertain much more to Skid Row, potentially Hollywood, potentially Venice Beach, areas that are dealing with much larger homeless populations and much larger collections of personal property. In Wilshire, our practice has been the seizure of property has coincided with the custodial arrest of an individual. We're not currently under the practice of removing property simply because we believe it to be abandoned or we articulate it to be abandoned. The Department of Sanitation might have a different approach. 

If they were to schedule a sweep for sanitary purposes and they identified a property to be abandoned or a health hazard, then I can't speak to their particular policies and procedures, but I can tell you locally that it's not our practice to remove property, at this time, without some custodial arrest that would result in us needing to take that individual's property with them. 

TNN:That's good to know. So it sounds like your organization is just beginning. Do you have a game plan? Have you started setting foreseeable goals? 

Scott: We have. The goals for our first 100 days (ending October 17th) are:

- Build the Midtown Los Angeles Homeless Coalition to represent at least 30 organizations and individuals.

- Train 50 volunteers to conduct the CES survey during our monthly outreach events.

- Survey 75 homeless adults in the Midtown area during outreach events and other touch points.

- Assist 30 chronically homeless individuals and veterans in obtaining the necessary documents and completing the necessary tasks to be eligible for housing placement.

- Match 10 homeless neighbors to a housing unit.

- Raise $100,000 to pay for coordination of services in Midtown (including move-in costs and navigation teams)

Sgt. Morgan:The coalition's goals coincide with our own. We have a seat at that table, we're very supportive of the development of that organization. I think the greatest goal comes back to can we gain more community support, organizations, individuals, any of the above, to come to the table and offer some time, resources, funding, whatever it may be, to help us move in that direction. 

Scott: LAPD Wilshire has a lot to offer. Our law enforcement officers are our eyes and ears in the community, they have a lot of knowledge built up over years about where homeless individuals are. They can support us in terms of being around and keeping people safe when we're going to be going into alleys, being aware of our efforts, so there's a lot of ways in which our partners, LAPD Wilshire, are really key to this effort. 

Community members interested in volunteering for this project can go to 

https://midtownlosangeleshomelesscoalition.wordpress.com/volunteer/ 

or contact Antquan Washington directly at 

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


NATURAL IVY FOUNDATION's looking for Angel sponsors to help pay their monthly water bill which is currently paid by the sisters part-time jobs. Their shelter is the only place many local homeless people can come to shower. Ten Natural Ivy Angels paying $50 each would take care of their monthly bill. They are 501c3 so it would be a tax deductible donation. Any amount on a monthly basis would be appreciated. 

contact them at 323-731-1795 

or   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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