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County takes steps to get more homeless off streets

LOS ANGELES — The county Board of Supervisors approved a handful of motions designed to more quickly respond to provide housing for people living on the streets at its Jan. 21 meeting.

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn co-authored a motion for a comprehensive crisis response strategy with Hahn saying the problem demands a Marshall Plan-like solution.

“We have to treat the homeless crisis with the urgency that it demands,” Hahn said. “I don’t want to continue to rely on the same old policies and practices that are working too slowly.

“We need our own Marshall Plan here in L.A. County so that we can provide shelter and housing to anyone and everyone who is willing to come inside, and we need the flexibility to do it as quickly and as efficiently as possible.”

Ridley-Thomas also garnered approval for deploying 30 trailers provided by the state to public and privately-owned parking lots in South Los Angeles “within days” to serve as interim housing for families.

There are 30,000 people countywide who have been evaluated by outreach workers and are ready to move inside, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. More than 1,000 died on the streets of Los Angeles County last year.

“We need a framework that makes sure each of them has a safe place to go — and soon,” Ridley-Thomas said. “This means getting rid of any red tape and other unnecessary impediments so that we can expedite housing and services.”

The trailers were supplied through an executive order by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who also committed earlier this month to spend more than $1 billion in fighting homelessness statewide during the 2020-21 fiscal year.

The county’s crisis strategy, as laid out in the motion, calls for the county’s Homeless Initiative and Office of Emergency Management to work together on a framework for prioritizing strategies that build capacity and accountability. A report is expected back in 60 days.

Homelessness advocates expressed their support.

“This is the right approach: creativity and flexibility in approach, but focus and accountability on the bottom line — helping all our friends outside have a place to call home,” said Chris Ko, managing director for homelessness and strategic initiatives at the nonprofit United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

The 13-member Governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors, which Ridley-Thomas co-heads, has pushed municipalities to treat homelessness as a humanitarian crisis tantamount to a natural disaster.

On a separate motion by Supervisor Hilda Solis, the board voted to bid on the about-to-be-closed St. Vincent Medical Center as a site for housing homeless individuals.

“This is an opportunity that’s unique,” said Solis, reminding her colleagues that the county tried to secure the property at Alvarado and Third streets in the Westlake district in March but were outbid.

The city of Los Angeles and other private parties are also expected to submit bids for the 10.5-acre campus.

“L.A. County is best suited to take the lead in turning St. Vincent Medical Center into a facility that could help address our need for more affordable housing, interim housing, and wraparound mental and medical health services,” Solis said. “If we are to effectively combat our homelessness crisis, we must be innovative and creative in our approach. This is not business as usual.”

CEO Sachi Hamai said her team would present a draft letter of intent to the board next week and indicated that the county’s offer would be all cash.

“I don’t want to enter into any short-term or long-term obligations,” Hamai told the board.

The deadline for a proposal is Feb. 7, according to Hamai.

The nonprofit Verity Health System announced earlier this month that a proposed sale of the 366-bed hospital had fallen through, and the facility would be closing. Verity Health has been working through Chapter 11 bankruptcy and had hoped to transfer ownership of the hospital and three other medical centers.

According to Verity, patients at St. Vincent Medical Center will continue to receive care until they can be discharged or transferred to other hospitals. The hospital’s transplant programs will be relocated to other facilities to ensure patients “will continue to receive high-quality care from their existing physicians.”

“This means getting rid of any redtape and other unnecessary impediments so that we can expedite housing and services.”

— County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas 

From City News Service