Lead Story Local News West Edition

Leaders seek ways to end youth homelessness in South L.A.

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Community leaders here are on a mission to prevent — and end — homelessness in the teen-aged and young adult populations.

The South L.A. Homeless Transitional Age Youth and Foster Care Collaborative is assisting hundreds of homeless underage foster children and young adults, ages 18 to 24 years, to find housing and support services.

At the collaborative’s annual meeting at Holman United Methodist Church, members focused primarily on building awareness and partnerships with the faith community as a means to helping the homeless youth.

The Rev. Kelvin Sauls, senior pastor at Holman and chair of the collaborative, said the collaborative had worked with 400 stakeholders to develop its strategic plan, “Homeless No More.”

“One goal calls for key partnerships with the faith community in the planning, delivery and leveraging of resources as an integral part of a safety net system for youth,” Sauls said. “We believe that every congregation, regardless of size, can contribute, connect and collaborate to implement the goals of our plan.”

According to the collaborative, many of the homeless children and young adults have been traumatized by gang life, abuse or sex trafficking.

Some are parents themselves; others are termed “invisible” and blend in with non-homeless kids.

Daniel Cooper was one such youth who did not stand out as homeless even though for almost 2 ½ years he refreshed himself in bathrooms at fast-food restaurants or in parks.

Collaborative board member Franco Vega, executive director of the Right Way Foundation helped Cooper find housing and develop job skills that Cooper said, “I used to make 250 silk-screened T-shirts for a nonprofit organization for Mother’s Day.”

Kandee Lewis, the collaborative’s secretary and executive director of the Positive Results Corporation, said “a few years ago, funding agencies told us they were not providing funds and resources to the community to help the homeless youth because there was no one there — no leadership — to use and coordinate the services.”

“The board and our plan are some of our biggest achievements … and one of our objectives is to engage and mobilize faith congregations to get behind implementing the plan,” Lewis added.

But helping homeless children also depends on having better methodology and data, said Peter Lynn, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority, which oversees city and county programs battling homelessness.

“We need a complete picture of the youth — who they are by name, their needs, where they are, in which communities — and with a level of precision that exceeds what we can do now with the count,” he added.

According to the collaborative, South L.A.’s homeless youth are homeless for longer periods of time and are disconnected from support services.

After being rejected from a well-known transitional housing program, 21-year-old Johna Rivers, also a mentee of the Right Way Foundation, wrote her own proposal to start a transitional housing program. Homeless still, she is “applying to transitional housing [complexes] hoping one of them will accept me soon,” she said.

Despite the rejection, Rivers said: “At the time when I  should have been hopeless, I am most proud that I said ‘yes’ to a trip to travel internationally [to Africa] and ‘yes’ to another trip to Brazil, to get to learn about my ancestors, because it is people in my position who would have turned the opportunity away.

“Even though I wasn’t financially stable for that opportunity, I still said ‘yes,’ knowing that God would make a way and make it happen.”

According to Mayor Eric Garcetti, the summit’s keynote speaker, a new coordinated entry system will match homeless youth with the right programs and services. “If a homeless child … comes to a library, the criminal justice system, a teacher or a relative — the entry door should be the right door.”

County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said the system provides some assurances that no young person will be homeless for more than 20 days.

“Ending youth homelessness by 2020 is a federal goal endorsed by 19 cabinet secretaries and agency heads,” Ridley-Thomas said. “If we are to achieve this goal by the deadline, it is imperative that the faith-based community heeds the clarion call to implement the six strategic goals put forward by the South Los Angeles Homeless No More Community Plan.”

According to the 2015 homeless counts, Ridley-Thomas’s second supervisorial district contains 34 percent of the county’s homeless population.

The 2015 data for homeless individuals under the age of 18, and between 18 and 24 years are unavailable, but in 2013, approximately 2,000 youth in those age brackets were homeless in South L.A.

In late April, the L.A. City Council voted unanimously to create an ad hoc committee on homelessness to focus on a comprehensive solution to homelessness in the city. Garcetti expressed hope that the city would start an Office of Reentry to help those who have been arrested or are coming out of the criminal justice system.

In the city’s 2015-16 budget, Garcetti also proposed an increase of $2.2 million for 20 new homeless caseworkers and challenged L.A. County to match that figure. And rather than conducting the homeless count every two years, the city plans to hold the next count in 2016.

Supporters of the collaborative include Garcetti, Councilman-elect Marqueece Dawson-Harris, the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority, service provider Sanctuary of Hope and faith congregations Gangsters for Christ and the Greater Chosen Temple Christian Fellowship.

The collaborative has many other supporters include L.A. Trade Tech; service providers and board members Pathways to Your Future and the Virtuous Woman; and the county Departments of Mental Health and Public Social Services.