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NAJEE’S NOTES: City takes another step in fight against homelessness

The homelessness crisis continues to grow throughout the city of Los Angeles.

According to figures released last month by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the homeless population jumped 5.7 percent over the past year. Within the city of Los Angeles, the numbers were even worse with a 5.2 percent increase in the homeless population.

As I drive throughout South L.A neighborhoods on a daily basis I can see firsthand how homeless has spread, especially in the Leimert Park Village community which is essentially the prized jewel of South L.A., a home to the arts and the scene of numerous social and political events for decades.

Leimert Park is my stomping grounds and essentially my headquarters. I have been very disturbed by what’s going on in the Village and throughout South L.A.

That’s why I wanted to have an exclusive dialogue with Alisa Orduna, one of the most influential African American women in the city who was appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti as the city’s new homelessness policy director in March. I had a chance to meet Alisa last year and have kept up with her work at community meetings and via social media.

Important things that our community should know about Alisa is that she’s a seasoned community development practitioner with close to 20 years of experience working in the nonprofit and government sectors. Alisa brings a rich understanding of homelessness services and policy, urban affairs, neighborhood development and planning, and community mediation.

Her most recent professional experience includes working as a program officer at United Way of Greater Los Angeles as a member of the Home For Good team.

Alisa is an L.A. native. She is also a graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana and the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in community psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute, where she is researching the disproportionate representation of African Americans within L.A.’s homelessness system.

With that type of resume anyone would be impressed, but perhaps Mayor Garcetti said it best when I asked him for a comment concerning Alisa.

“Alisa Orduna brings a rich understanding of homelessness services and urban affairs to our policy team,” Garcetti said. “Smart, strategic and deeply empathetic, Alisa has more than 20 years of experience working in the nonprofit and government sector, and her accomplishments and advocacy for vulnerable communities will bring valuable insight to our fight to end homelessness in Los Angeles. I am proud to have her on my team.”

Our community of South L.A. should be extremely proud of Alisa, who lists Philadelphia City Councilmember Jannie Blackwell, author /activist Paulo Freire, feminist Bell Hooks and Angela Davis among her role models.

I asked Alisa why was she so passionate about homelessness and she responded that it’s the new frontier of civil rights. And if you view it through a racial lens, you would understand the concern. African Americans compose 43 percent of the total homeless population in L.A. City, yet only represent about nine percent of the total population. Within certain communities such as Skid Row, African Americans compose close to 90 percent of the unsheltered homeless residents.

When I asked Alisa why, she states anecdotally that there are still large segments of the African-American community, particularly those who experience inter-generational poverty, that are disenfranchised from the mainstream economy. Far too many African Americans of working age lack access to skills training and employment opportunities to enable them to compete in today’s job market.

It is imperative that we break the silos between our homelessness delivery system and our WorkSource network to increase access to employment skills training and entrepreneurship opportunities for people exiting homelessness. That is why the city’s Economic and Workforce Development’s L.A. Rise program, a transitional work initiative, is a priority in the 2016-17 budget.

She also believes that there is an overlap with the phenomena of mass incarceration whereby persons incarcerated during the war on drugs, are now being released through various programs, while the community base has significantly shifted as the historic core of the African American community is now dispersed to the Valley, Inland Empire, and other communities outside of South L.A.

As such, people returning “home” to find everyone has left and are in need of support for housing, income and social connection to help transition back after being institutionalized for long periods of time. Mayor Garcetti created the Office of Re-Entry led by colleague Kimberly Guillemet to start coordinating resources to provide for these supports.

Alisa also believes that African Americans who seek to exit homelessness through various housing opportunities such as the HUD-VASH program for veterans or a Section 8 voucher or even the city’s Rapid Rehousing program may be facing housing discrimination in a complex relationship between class and race.

Far too many landlords in this “hot” rental market still refuse to participate in the housing voucher programs. While Alisa understands the fear that potential landlords may have based on stigmas related to homelessness, it is also important that landlords understand the incentives such as security deposits, unit holding fees, a damage mitigation fund, and ongoing client case management that come with these voucher programs.

She hopes that through education more landlords will open doors.

The resources to address these solutions will be provided through the city’s historic passage of a $138 million Homelessness Budget. This funding will pay for new facilities, housing supports, case management, and will seed new capital development of permanent supportive housing. This funding is only a down payment however, and a new ongoing revenue source must be found with the public’s support to continue this investment for at least the next 10 years to make an impact in this crisis.

At the end of the day, Alisa believes that homelessness represents the disconnections in larger society— often created out of fear of difference. This could be one’s mental health disease, physical disability, age, race, life experience, accent or country of origin, and sexual identity.

If L.A. is truly serious about ending homelessness, she believes we must address our unconscious biases that put up “borders” and instead embrace our rich diversity through building “bridges” that allow us to see people — including those experiencing homelessness. For only when we see ourselves as an inclusive community under a shared vision for a better way of life for all, then will our actions create homes where people can “be.”

To get involved with homelessness, please sign-up to be a part of the Mayor’s Welcome Home Project at: http://www.lamayor.org/join-welcome-home-project.

More good news from City Hall and for activists like myself who for over two decades have fought the LAPD tooth and nail demanding police reform and accountability. Body camera’s and funding has been approved by the Los Angeles City Council. This won’t be a total cure for police abuse and racial profiling but I do believe that it adds an extra layer of transparency to protect community members and officers.

“Today’s action by the City Council is an investment in my vision of a Los Angeles Police Department that leads in transparency and accountability — values that protect officers and everyday Angelenos, and that are fundamental to policing in the 21st century,” Garcetti said in a statement. “This is a historic moment for the LAPD, and I am proud of the leadership shown by everyone who played a part in getting us to this day.”

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