L.A. council votes to move faster on housing homeless

LOS ANGELES — The City Council approved a proposal March 23 that seeks a workable emergency strategy to provide shelter for every homeless person in the city, which at last count numbered more than 34,000 people.

The motion was introduced in February by Councilmen Mike Bonin and Marqueece Harris-Dawson. It says there is little evidence that anything is being done to create more or better shelters for the homeless in the city and that a true sense of emergency is needed to deal with the problem.

“What I wanted to do with this motion with Mr. Harris-Dawson is try to reframe how we look at this issue, with urgency and fierce impatience,” Bonin said earlier this month. “And I’ve said this many times before, but if there were a natural disaster and tens of thousands of people were forced onto the streets of our neighborhoods, we would not be responding the way that we are responding.”

The motion says the city’s 2016 Comprehensive Homelessness Strategy resolution — a $1.85 billion outline for homeless initiatives over a 10-year period — called for an expansion and “dramatic transformation” of the region’s emergency homeless shelters. But that “has not happened,” according to the councilmen.

“In fact, there is scant evidence of any progress, no apparent plan or strategy to make progress, and no evident sense of urgency or attention to any efforts to make progress,” according to their motion. “Even though officials have repeatedly declared a `state of shelter emergency,’ there is no institutional or organizational sense of emergency to move thousands of people off the streets immediately, or even in the next several weeks or months.”

The motion, which was approved on an 11-0 vote without discussion, seeks a number of actions from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which coordinates homeless services for Los Angeles County, and from some city departments. With city assistance, the authority is asked to provide several comprehensive reports within 14 days, including the framework for an emergency response homeless plan, outlining what steps and what funds would be required to provide an alternative to homeless encampments for 100 percent of the homeless population by the end of the year.

Peter Lynn, executive director of the homeless services authority, told the Homelessness and Poverty Committee that “we’re going to have to lift up the entire infrastructure and shelter is an important piece of it.”

Lynn also noted that since county voters approved Measure H about a year ago, which was a sales tax increase that aims to raise $355 million annually for homeless services, the authority has seen an increase from 10 percent to 50 percent in the number of people who enter temporary shelters in the county and are transitioned into permanent supportive housing.

“That’s a program change with funding behind it, so the results can be dramatically improved with the right funding and the right programmatic changes, and the systemic infrastructure behind it to move people through,” Lynn said. “I’m happy to address this and lay it before the council the kinds of numbers that you are talking about. These are not small numbers, and you know that.”

Homelessness in the city of Los Angeles jumped by 20 percent in 2017 while the county saw a spike of 23 percent compared to the previous year, according to the results of the 2017 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count. In the city, the total number of homeless went up to 34,189 and the county number increased to 57,794.

The city’s biggest response to the problem of homelessness the last few years was the passage in 2016 of Proposition HHH, a $1.2 billion bond measure to fund permanent housing for the homeless, but the units will take years to approve and build.

“Los Angeles must provide genuine alternatives to sidewalk encampments — urgently,” the Bonin/Harris-Dawson motion states.

The motion also asks the homeless services authority to provide information on how many homeless people are currently being provided shelter or housing, how many it aims to house by the end of this fiscal year and the next three fiscal years, what steps have been taken to replace barracks-style shelters with 24-hour crisis housing and bridge housing, and what steps have been taken to recruit houses of worship and other nonprofits to provide shelter beds.

The motion also directs the Los Angeles homeless coordinator to provide a list of every public facility in the city legally eligible to be used to provide shelter, temporary housing or safe parking.

Service center opens to combat South L.A. homelessness

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Mayor Eric Garcetti and other community dignitaries celebrated the March 13 grand opening of the Broadway Manchester Service Center, an office space for caseworkers serving the homeless and low-income populations in South Los Angeles.

The service center is a collaboration between the nonprofits St. Joseph Center and First to Serve, which provide services to homeless and low-income families, people with substance abuse problems and others.

LaCheryl Porter, vice president of contract management and new ventures for the St. Joseph Center, said that the service center will be used as “a centralized location for case managers that do a lot of work with clients to find housing in the South L.A. area.”

Caseworkers that work with South L.A. residents will now have a place in the area to work out of instead of having to commute from the Westside, Porter added.

The center will provide housing case management, mental health services, crisis housing, homeless outreach permanent supportive housing, housing stability, and many other services to the homeless community in South L.A.

“When someone moves into housing, they’ll need assistance on how to pay rent, how to do things to make sure that they maintain their housing,” Porter said.

Clients will be chosen through referrals from particular contracts, such as the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

According to Peter Lynn, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, South L.A. has one of the highest concentrations of people experiencing homelessness, with about 5,700 people living on the streets.

“We’re going to roll up our sleeves and get to work like we’ve never gotten to work before,” county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “It’s that time for us to do what we haven’t done in the county of Los Angeles, and that is to make a bold statement and a big push to end homelessness in the county.”

The county’s goal is to bring 45,000 people out of homelessness and prevent 30,000 from falling into it over the next five years, Ridley-Thomas said.

Garcetti said that the voter approval of Measure HHH in November and Measure H in March shows the city is ready to do more than just confront and address homelessness, but to end it all together.

Pastor John Cager, board chair of First to Serve, speaks at the grand opening of the Broadway Manchester Service Center March 12. First to Serve is one of two nonprofits that are collaborating to operate the service center, which is designed to help get homeless people off the street. (Photo by Dorany Pineda)
Pastor John Cager, board chair of First to Serve, speaks at the grand opening of the Broadway Manchester Service Center March 12. First to Serve is one of two nonprofits that are collaborating to operate the service center, which is designed to help get homeless people off the street. (Photo by Dorany Pineda)

In November, voters approved Measure HHH, a city ballot measure that increased property taxes to pay for $1.2 billion in bonds to build 10,000 housing units for the homeless. Measure H, which passed with the necessary two-thirds majority on March 7, was a county ballot measure that increased the sales tax by a quarter-cent to help fund homeless programs and services.

The measures are part of a two-step fundraising designed by the city and county to provide support services and shelter to those living on the streets.

“The 110 is a freeway, not a shelter,” Garcetti said. “Our rivers are to get our waters out to the ocean, not to provide so-called homes. The unhoused among us are us: they are our brothers and our sisters; they are the veterans who fought for this country; they are the youth we shower with resources until they turn 18 or 21 and feel lost in this world. They are those people who will be the measure of our success or our failure.”

It is a center that will enable workers to try and solve homelessness, a problem that Garcetti called “the most pressing moral challenge of our time.”

Among the other speakers at the grand opening were Pastor John Cager, Rev. Richard Reed, Dr. VaLecia Adams Kellum and others.

Following the speeches, guests were provided lunch and given a tour of what used to be a post office and is now the newly renovated facility at 8525 S. Broadway.


L.A. again leads nation in chronically homeless

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles area led the nation for a second year in a row in chronically homeless individuals, according to federal rankings released Nov. 17.

The 12,970 chronically homeless people living alone on the streets of Los Angeles and surrounding cities is up from the previous year’s 12,356 chronically homeless individuals, according to figures provided in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual reports to Congress on homelessness.

Those who are chronically homeless are often the toughest for service providers to help, and need housing arrangements that have onsite mental and physical heath services and drug counseling.

A “very robust intervention,” sometimes sustained over several years, is needed to serve this segment of the homeless population, HUD spokesman Ed Cabrera said.

A chronically homeless person is defined as someone with a disability who has been homeless for at least a year, or for four times over the past three years for a total time of at least 12 months.

Cabrera said that in Los Angeles, “we’ve seen the numbers go in the wrong direction on the chronic homelessness side,” while there has been a sharp drop in homelessness among veterans.

The number of homeless veterans is at 2,728, down 57 percent from 2010, Cabrera said.

“Veterans have a lot more broad-based support by communities and stakeholders on this issue, so I think that’s resulted in a … record amount of decline,” Cabrera said.

Section 8 vouchers and supportive services have been made available to veterans through funding from the federal government, Cabrera said.

“These federal investments show that with a targeted, proven intervention you can continue to drive homelessness numbers down and keep them down,” Cabrera said.

“We haven’t had that same luxury on the chronically homeless front.”

Many of the homeless veterans also fit the criteria of being chronically homeless, he said.

While chronic homelessness continues to be prevalent in Los Angeles among individuals, the population of chronically homeless people who are part of families shrank from 1,817 people last year to 498 this year.

Peter Lynn, executive director for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, said this may be because “the focus area has been on getting families into permanent supportive housing.”

The increase in chronically homeless individuals, meanwhile, “represents a certain amount of inflow of people becoming chronically homeless,” Lynn said.

The fact that there is a “large population of unsheltered” homeless individuals in Los Angeles “may well play a role in people experiencing chronic homelessness,” Lynn said.

The idea is to get people “off the streets and into housing as fast as possible so that health conditions don’t become chronic health conditions,” Lynn said.

One reason there has been success in reducing homelessness among veterans is that they have access to health care and services, he said.

While chronically homeless individuals may be signing up for health insurance, they still often do not have easy access to clinics where they will actually put their insurance coverage to use.

Cabrera said the recently approved $1.2 billion bond measure, Proposition HHH, to pay for the construction of permanent supportive housing could prove to be a “significant investment” toward helping the chronically homeless.

That amount of money is “almost what HUD invests nationally,” he said.

Lynn said the measure is expected to increase the number of permanent supportive housing unit construction from 300 to 1,000 units a year.

Lynn said that there needs to be a corresponding investment in services to go along with this increase in housing stock, so there is need for “the federal government to invest similar resources that they have on veterans.”

This year’s annual report on homelessness to Congress shows the nationwide homeless population decreasing 14 percent to 549,928, since 2010, but Los Angeles saw its homeless population increasing 32 percent over the same period.

Lynn said Los Angeles may be following a trend seen in other major cities, with the high housing costs playing “a significant role in people becoming homeless, and of course, people becoming chronically homeless.”

The figures for the Los Angeles area are for its continuum of care, the local planning body responsible for coordinating the full range of homelessness services in a geographic area. The Los Angeles Continuum of Care consists of all of Los Angeles County except for Glendale, Pasadena and Long Beach.