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.


Trauma, violence impact residents, panelist says

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — The impact of trauma and violence in the community impacts the way people are able to perform at work and school, a member of a panel on community violence said Aug. 30

Karim Webb, the co-owner and operations manager of PCF Restaurant Management, made that comment during a meeting at the Community Coalition that was attended by state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

The meeting was called to discuss ways to improve the relations between the police and the community.

Some possible solutions voiced at the meeting included increasing crisis-response training for police officers, as well as mental health resources for those who have undergone trauma.

“Everything we hear in the media about [post-traumatic stress disorder] is about veterans of foreign wars,” said Catherine Clay, who participated in a roundtable discussion. We live in an urban war everyday. Our community needs to be educated about PTSD and the police should be involved and trained to deal with that.”

An advisor on mental health issues for L.A. County who witnessed the killing of her cousin, Clay said she has experienced those symptoms herself.

“Every time I hear of a shooting, I have flashbacks about that incident,” she said.

Other advisors on the roundtable included Aqeela Sherrills, a partner of the Reverence Project, which aims to chip away at the culture of violence; and the Rev. Richard Reed, the executive director of First to Serve, a nonprofit that focuses on the provision of housing and supportive services. Coalition staff and youth advisors also served as panelists.

Webb, who manages a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, said he has employed about 300 young workers in his three restaurants. He also is on the advisory council of BLOOM, a local initiative to increase opportunities for young black men.

“Just a job opportunity is not enough,” he said speaking of young people. “They need role models who understand their situation and attempt to be a positive influence.”

The roundtable also discussed how creating an environment where youth can achieve is essential to ending the cycle of violence, which would then lead to more positive relations with the police.

“If they are underserved and undereducated, they won’t be competitive and will turn to negative influences,” Webb said.

Attorney General Harris also touched on the need to expand crisis-response training for police officers to prepare them for difficult situations. That would include a breakdown of racial biases to ensure they do not affect decisions made in a split second.

Harris said that if officers acquired more awareness, they could ask themselves, “would I be acting the same way if the person in front of me was blond and blue-eyed?”

She also emphasized the importance of expanding diversity in law enforcement and promoting policies that increase transparency. Those include expanding the use of body-worn cameras on officers and publishing data for all law enforcement agencies in one place. That way, the public could see how agencies compare to one another and whether improvement efforts are working.

Alberto Retana, the president of the Community Coalition, said he thought the meeting was a positive step.

“We need more of these conversations with elected officials and the people who are affected by the problems they’re trying to fix,” he said. “But roundtables are not enough. We need to keep coming up with ideas and holding elected officials accountable.”

He said that the need for transparency was a topic that resonated with him.

“There are far too many cases where accountability is never achieved,” he said. “We need to expose the unequal protection officers receive under the Police Bill of Rights.”

He cited the fact that officers are granted a “cooling off” period before they are interrogated, a privilege not afforded to civilians.

Retana made it clear that he does not want to strip the elements that protect officers from retaliation, only those that “undercut police transparency.”

Harris, too, ended with a message that urged cooperation.

“This is not about fighting back against something, but rather fighting for the ideals we’d like to see in our country. It’s not about fighting our country.”