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Homeless outreach teams fan out across South L.A.

LOS ANGELES — Calling it “Measure H at work,” County Supervisor Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas announced Oct. 11 that street engagement teams are fanning out across Los Angeles County to have face-to-face interactions with people experiencing homelessness, and to help them access housing, health care and other supportive services.

“All over the County of Los Angeles, you’ll find us working, doing what we need to do, lifting people up and restoring them to their full purpose and capacity,” Ridley-Thomas said at a news conference near where one of the teams was preparing to reach out to a homeless encampment near the Harbor (110) Freeway in South L.A.

Measure H, a voter-approved quarter-cent sales tax, will enable the county to create more street engagement teams as well as fund other efforts to help the homeless population, currently estimated at 58,000. The county began collecting the sales tax on Oct. 1 and is working with nonprofit organizations such as the Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care System (HOPICS) to build those teams.

“This is one of the most innovative and impactful strategies within L.A. County’s Homeless Initiative because it really allows us time to build rapport and trust with people on the street in order to encourage them to be willing to accept the services and resources that are offered,” HOPICS Division Director Veronica Lewis said. “It provides a robust mix of quality-of-life resources and specialized services on site — right on the street — such as medical care, mental health treatment, addiction support.”

Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said the homeless outreach teams’ mission is to “meet our homeless brothers and sisters where they are, geographically, socially, emotionally and medically.”

The county’s Health Agency Director Dr. Mitch Katz added, “We’re so proud to be partners with so many great agencies, and we look forward to the great success that’s going to occur now with the passage of Measure H.”

Monica Potts said she is no longer living on the streets, thanks to HOPICS.

“What they offered me was clothing, housing, shelter, food, hygiene and outreach,” she said. “I just want to thank HOPICS for striving and never giving up. I’m currently housed since June 2017. God bless you.”

Immediately following the press conference, street outreach teams walked a few blocks to a homeless encampment and got to work. At least one person accepted their offer of shelter and other supportive services.

The county piloted street engagement teams in Skid Row back in January 2016, with each team consisting of a nurse, a substance abuse counselor, a mental health clinician, a social worker or outreach worker, and a person who has experienced homelessness.

Together, they moved almost 300 people into permanent supportive housing, placed 600 people in interim housing and matched 400 people to intensive services.

Encouraged by that success, the Board of Supervisors expanded the program countywide starting last spring. From May through September, street engagement teams have connected more than 1,000 people to services and are in the process of helping almost 400 people find permanent housing.

To date, they have placed 363 people in interim housing, and helped 24 people move into housing with home-based services.