Homeless Solutions Explored

Continuing our series on homelessness in CD10, reporter Carla Pineda explores what it takes to address the issue seriously and who is getting the job done.

 glance toward the Washington Blvd. fire station or the Crenshaw Blvd. exit off the I-10 freeway will remind local residents of the 1,168 homeless people living on the streets of Council District 10. With a total of more than 25,600 people in Los Angeles without a place to call home, the city council has proposed to declare a state of emergency and devote more than $100 million to address homelessness. Though the city’s plan for this budget remains murky, a look at proven homeless solutions offers lessons in ways to truly end homelessness.

Oct15Homeless In Peru, members of the Peregrin Evangelical Church decided to step in to help this local homeless man.  They cleaned him up, convinced social services to provide him with regular food, got him ongoing medical attention, provided him with money and a national ID card.  City mayor Jacinto Muro Tavara said, “It’s an act of humanity that sets an example to us all.”

The solution seems simple enough: Give homeless people a place to live and help them get back on their feet. However, finding the funding for this housing and the people to implement these support services complicates the solution.

In an April 2015 report, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana said Los Angeles spends about $100 million “coping with homelessness". He recommended that the City develop a smarter and more coordinated approachand pointed out 15 different city departments that bear the bulk of this cost  of “dealing with homelessness, rather than helping to solve it.”

Santana recommended that the city use Los Angeles County’s effective approach for dealing with chronically sick or mentally ill patients by providing ongoing supportive housing, saying it would be “prudent” for the city to follow suit."  He listed case management, drug counseling, mental health and medical care as the amenities that create stability and keep homeless people in these residences. Santana said the county has saved money on hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and jailings as a result of this program.

If City Council approves the proposed $100 million budget, the money would be directed to the City Council’s homeless committee to decide on a distribution strategy. This group is led by councilmembers Jose Huizar and Marqueece Harris-Dawson and includes councilmembers Mike Bonin, Gilbert Cedillo, and Curren D. Price Jr. The first allocation is anticipated to be made in January 2016. Some of the potential action items mentioned by committee members include increasing shelter capacity, funding long-term housing, and fast-tracking building projects related to homeless housing. Cedillo is aiming to increase the size of housing projects not governed by environmental law that could slow down the permitting process. 

In addition to the $100 million proposal by the city council, Mayor Eric Garcetti also announced a $13 million allocation to tackle homelessness from funds derived from excess tax revenue. Although experts like UCLA Law School professor Gary Blasi remain skeptical about whether Garcetti’s plan is feasible, the mayor offered more details about the destination for his funds. Some pieces include:

- $10.1 million in subsidies for temporary housing (6-9 months), with 50 percent dedicated specifically for homeless veterans.

-   $1 million for regional storage facilities, where homeless individuals can shower and do laundry;

-     $1 million in outreach funds for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the organization that executes a physical homeless count  

-$665,000 for shelters to stay open two extra months per year and open for 24-hour service when El Niño’s anticipated storms begin.

Among the city’s considerations when deciding where to allocate funding is its need for 1,500 new housing units per year to meet current demand, according to Helmi Hisserich of the city’s housing department. Currently the city only provides about 300.

Housing is expensive, says Spencer Downing, executive director of Hollywood nonprofit The Center at Blessed Sacrament, but leaving people on the streets is more expensive for the city. Downing described the emergency room costs, law enforcement time spent on removing people from sidewalks, and the price of jailing homeless people for minor unpaid citations. The center offers an environment for people to transition from the street into a home by establishing relationships with the chronically homeless community and connecting them to vital services. Among those relationship-building efforts are morning meditation (which seems to be appreciated by the homeless who attend) and discussions to help homeless people clear their minds and voice their opinions on current events.

Kevin Murray of Weingart Center, an organization serving primarily Skid Row, agrees with Downing. “If you add up police, sanitation, and other costs associated to homeless individuals, it adds up to $35,000 per year, versus $10,000 for our own programs,” he said.  These programs include housing, case management, job training, and follow-up support for a nine-month period. Weingart encourages citizens to invest in the transformation of people living in poverty, rather than donating directly to homeless people and contributing to a cycle of homelessness.

In places like Salt Lake City, a combination of permanent housing, on-site counseling, and good civic leadership is what has worked best. The entire state of Utah has less than 300 homeless people today.

This “housing first” approach provides people with adequate homes from day one, rather than prison-like units for temporary periods. Part of the city’s success can be attributed to “attractive housing that street people actually longed to live in,” in locations away from the environments that foster homelessness, according to San Francisco Chronicle writer Kevin Fagan. Housing is permanent regardless of behavior or employment, and although it’s not completely free, it’s provided at a very low cost.

In these homes, residents receive proper services that suit their needs. These programs include counselors who spend considerable time getting to know the residents and connecting them to supportive services that range from budget planning to severe psychiatric help.

The permanent “housing first” theory, which Business Insider said was developed by New York University psychologist Sam Tsemberis in 1992, has been implemented successfully in Seattle, Denver, and the state of Massachusetts. Salt Lake City has been the best example of this no-strings-attached housing model, reducing homelessness by 75 percent in the past 10 years.

A similar comprehensive approach is needed in the Venice area, according to councilmember Mike Bonin. In an op-ed originally published in the Los Angeles Daily News, he criticized one-size-fits-all shelters and called for a plan that mirrors New York’s safe-haven shelters, 24-hour drop-in centers, and partnerships with faith organizations to open respite programs. He demanded a system that analyzes and breaks the barriers that push people away from accepting services. For example, elderly couples who only have each other and families who feel safest together will refuse to attend gender-specific facilities. “It runs counter to their survival instinct,” he said.

“We need specialized welcoming centers or shared housing for couples, for families with children, for teenage runaways, for veterans, and others,” Bonin said.

In our community, places like Natural Ivy Foundation (see our articles online) put a high priority on housing. The organization provides temporary supportive housing on its premises or partners’ properties, along with job training, and counseling in a comprehensive program with a goal of self-sufficiency.

FROM  http://www.josehuizar.com/doing_the_work_to_address_homelessness

Huizar & Homelessness & Poverty Committee 

Creating a plan, budget and timeline to begin to address homelessness

The City’s Homelessness & Poverty Committee, co-chaired by Councilmembers Huizar and Harris-Dawson, focused on housing, a critical component in addressing the City’s homeless issue. At Wednesday’s meeting, the committee, which also includes Councilmembers Bonin, Cedillo and Price, instructed city staff to develop recommended action steps on a variety of housing strategies, including:

-  To integrate the many kinds of housing assets in the City, from emergency shelter to permanent supportive housing, in order to improve long-term outcomes for homeless residents;

- To respond to federal shifts in funding priorities by pursuing “rapid re-housing” and “bridge housing” as pieces of long-term housing for the homeless; 

-  To contribute toward a pool of “move-in” funds which go toward current obstacles to housing for the indigent, such as security deposits or application fees.

Since the committee’s establishment in June as an ad-hoc and later as the City’s first fully dedicated committee addressing homelessness, Councilmember Huizar and the committee have made a number of recommendations toward creating a six-month plan, budget and timeline so that the city of Los Angeles can begin to get a handle on homelessness, which has risen 12% across the city and county.  It is leading efforts to:

-  Start the “Winter Shelter” program early to provide extra shelter options during El Nino rains.

-  Expand services across the city, including locations where homeless can store limited amounts of property instead of keeping it piled on the sidewalk;

-  Make more effective the city’s rules around impoundment of homeless property on the street while protecting the rights of people experiencing homelessness;

-  Deploy 10 new teams of outreach workers to assist in getting people off the streets.

-  Fully implement the Coordinated Entry System (CES), which is a central tracking system that identifies high-needs homeless and better aligns homeless individuals with the appropriate housing and services available.

Huizar, Ridley-Thomas’ Skid Row City/County Model 

to be Expanded

In August, Huizar issued a City Council motion to allocate $200,000 in CD14 discretionary monies to support leadership of a City/County/Community (C-3) intensive five-days-a-week service outreach effort in Skid Row, expected to launch in October.

L.A. County Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Solis are providing an additional $100,000 each. The $3-$4 million C-3 program is based on the street-level, service-outreach model first proposed by Councilmember Huizar, partnering with Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, during the city’s Operation Healthy Streets cleanup efforts. Through Councilmember Huizar’s leadership, the City’s Operation Healthy Streets was expanded in 2014 to include vital County medical, mental health, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and housing services.

In Northeast Los Angeles, outreach efforts that CD14 has actively supported have surveyed more than 150 homeless individuals, resulting in at least a dozen who are able to be immediately housed.

In the next few months, the Homelessness & Poverty Committee aims to cover important areas of policy and resource needs, such as:

-  How the City can better tap into County resources aimed at those in need of mental health treatment;

-  How to support and empower city staff who regularly interact with the homeless, such as librarians and parks employees;

-  Funding needs to develop adequate housing for the homeless; 

-  Improvements to governance through Councilmember Huizar’s motion to create a “Homeless Czar” position in the City to act as a consistent City central coordinator of homeless activities.

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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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