County Lays Out Plan to Fight Homelessness

June 15, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a wide-ranging set of recommendations Tuesday to combat homelessness, committing to spend an estimated $266 million over the next 12 months.

Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai said the county’s plan will move 45,000 families and individuals into permanent housing over the next five years and prevent another 30,000 from falling into homelessness.

The funding comes from a quarter-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in March. The tax will take effect Oct. 1, but Homeless Initiative Director Phil Ansell said the services approved by the board would get underway July 1.

The recommendations represent a hard-won consensus of a working group of 50 representatives of public and private organizations, as well as feedback from public hearings, Ansell said. Strategies include outreach, crisis housing, permanent housing and prevention.

The vote comes less than two weeks after the release of the latest count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority showing a 23 percent increase in homelessness countywide since 2016.

A homeless man parks camper on Avenue 24 in Lincoln Heights. (EGP photo by Gloria Alvarez)

A homeless man parks camper on Avenue 24 in Lincoln Heights. (EGP photo by Gloria Alvarez)

Chris Ko, director of homeless initiatives for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, remains optimistic despite those numbers.

“We find them daunting, but we are not daunted,” Ko told the board.

During an earlier rally outside the Hall of Administration, Ko said the strategies for fighting homelessness struck a balance between providing immediate relief and developing longer-term, holistic solutions.

In addition to a unanimous vote in favor of the working group’s proposals, the supervisors signed off on several related motions and amendments, which include finding funding for at least 200 beds of crisis housing for female victims of domestic violence, help for homeless college students and child care for working homeless residents.

Most advocates for the homeless praised the county’s plans, although many sought more money for particular programs or constituencies.

Several people said more funding should be earmarked for black homeless individuals.

“I’d like to acknowledge that our county is approximately 8 percent black and our homeless population is approximately 40 percent black,” said Tiffany Duvernay, a formerly homeless woman who contributed her “lived experience” as part of the 50-person county panel.

Duvernay asked the board to allocate more money to faith-based organizations.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell, speaking for the Los Angeles County Police Chiefs’ Association, called for more funding for law enforcement outreach to mentally ill homeless individuals.

“This is a bottom-line community policing philosophy,” McDonnell said. “We all have to work together on this.”

Supervisor Hilda Solis agreed.

“Not all of them are there to put handcuffs on people,” Solis said of the many law enforcement officers who know the people on the street and refer them to mental health teams and other resources.

Solis also noted the increase in families on the verge of homelessness and Latinos and others who have not been counted,

“During this year’s Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, we saw a lot of affected families and people who we know were not accounted for,” said Solis in a written statement. “Many people suffering from homelessness are men, women, and children of color, especially Latinos, who are not being counted and therefore the County is failing to provide them the resources they need to get back on their feet. There is an entire segment of the homeless population who, while they aren’t sleeping in encampments on the street, but are sleeping on a family member’s couch now and then, or in a car, or move from motel to motel – they go uncounted, but they also need these funds,” she said.

One downtown resident, a single mother who works as the executive director of the Historic Business Improvement District, also stressed the need to focus on the mentally ill.

Skid Row is “a rapidly growing open-air asylum,” Blair Besten said, telling the board that LAPD officers pick up an average of three people daily to be hospitalized on a 72-hour psychiatric hold.

Even with hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding for the next 10 years, major challenges remain.

Building new housing will require “pushing back ‘nimbyism’ (not in my backyard) … to house our brothers and sisters,” said Ann Sewill of the California Community Foundation.

Developers are battling neighborhood opposition in Venice and at least one proposed project was effectively shot down by San Pedro residents.

“People want to address it, but aren’t sure that they want to address it in their backyard,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger said board members would have to do their own extensive outreach to change attitudes in the communities they represent.

Barger said she tells residents: “These individuals are already living in the community. The question is whether we’re going to give them a roof over their head.”

In a statement issued after the vote, Barger said education is the key and cited the example of Hope Gardens Family Center in Sylmar.

“When the community was educated about the project, they embraced it with open arms,” Barger said. “This cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. We need to be flexible and listen to our cities and non-profits.”

Kagel Canyon residents fought the family center, which opened in 2007 as a home to women and children, including seniors. It was part of an effort to move families away from Skid Row and create housing for the formerly homeless throughout the county.

 

Homeless Advisory Group Seeking Applicants

May 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

LOS ANGELES  – The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority is seeking individuals who have experienced homelessness to join an advisory group.

“The (Lived Experience Advisory Group) plays a vital role in providing the homeless lived experience perspective on much of the work we and our community partners throughout Los Angeles do with respect to ending homelessness,” according to a LAHSA statement.

LAHSA is hoping to expand the group to achieve broader geographical representation and a diverse set of perspectives, including single adults, families, transition-age youth, veterans, survivors of domestic violence, chronically homeless individuals, disabled persons and those who have re-entered the community.

The agency is also looking for demographic diversity in terms of age, race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Candidates chosen to join the Lived Experience Advisory Group will not be paid, but will receive a transportation gift card. Light fare and beverages are offered at the group’s two-hour meetings, which are held the first Friday of each month.

New applicants chosen will be invited to attend the July 7 meeting.

The application deadline is June 6 and an application can be found online at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZNFFM7K.

With Ballot Initiative, Los Angeles Looks Toward Ending Homelessness

February 16, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

While Los Angeles is home to the nation’s largest homeless population, L.A. County has responded with a broad spectrum of programs to match.

The scope of the problem is large, but the agencies and organizations tasked with ending homelessness are making progress – progress that advocates say could be helped by greater public investment.

The March ballot initiative known as Measure H proposes a quarter-cent sales tax that would finance the medical, housing, and employment needs of a homeless population that includes large numbers of former foster youth, women, and people of color.

Voters have already shown a willingness to fund measures that help the people sleeping on the streets of Los Angeles. Measure H would complement a $1.2 billion bond measure that voters approved last year to build 10,000 housing units for the homeless.

If Measure H were to pass by the needed two-thirds vote, it would create an annual fund of $355 million to help a population that has swelled to nearly 47,000. The county would approve spending plans based on recommendations from those on the front lines of the fight against homelessness.

“We have a pervasive crisis of homelessness,” says Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative Director Phil Ansell, who helped create homeless prevention programs in his former role as chief deputy director of the county’s social services department. “This would help us deal comprehensively with the issue and address the needs of different homeless categories. This is a complex problem that requires government, business and nonprofits.”

The Home for Good coalition led by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce has housed about 18,000 veterans and more than 16,000 of the chronically homeless since 2011. It is among the organizations that will advise the county if the tax is approved.

Homeless man parks his RV on San Fernando Road in Linoln Heights. (Photo by Mike Alvarez)

Homeless man parks his RV on San Fernando Road in Linoln Heights. (Photo by Mike Alvarez)

Chris Ko, Home for Good’s director, says that more resources for homelessness prevention are needed because of high housing costs in the county.

In Koreatown, for example, Ko says that more than 1,000 people are homeless, and many more are “on the brink of homelessness.” Homelessness extends into all ethnic communities in Los Angeles, and Ko says that housing insecurity rates of Asians and Pacific Islanders are twice as high as those for whites.

Gentrification is creating more housing insecurity in Latino communities, says Celina Alvarez, the executive director of Housing Works, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit.

“People are living in parks and under freeways with no hope,” she says. “Every human being has a right to a home and the right to live in communities where they are valued … We have criminalized their behavior and stigmatized and ostracized them.”

Ethnic media reporters and advocates gather at Skid Row Housing Trust in Los Angeles on Friday, Feb. 3 to take part in a discussion about the county’s homelessness initiatives.  (New America Media)

Ethnic media reporters and advocates gather at Skid Row Housing Trust in Los Angeles on Friday, Feb. 3 to take part in a discussion about the county’s homelessness initiatives. (New America Media)

While the most visible homeless community is central to the Skid Row area, homeless teens and young adults – a growing segment of L.A.’s homeless population – are more dispersed, and thus can be “invisible” to agencies, according to Andrea Marchetti, the executive director of Jovenes Inc. Marchetti’s organization provides housing and employment counseling for youth and at-risk families in Los Angeles. The homeless youth population in L.A., which is somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 young people, includes many who were formerly in foster care, Marchetti says.

Women also represent an increasingly large segment of the homeless population, partly because of domestic violence, says Debra Suh, the executive director of the Center for the Pacific Asian Family, an organization that helps Asian and Pacific Islander (API) domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.

One third of the homeless population is female, she says, and there has been a 55 percent increase in homeless women in the past three years. “We are not addressing domestic violence,” she says.

“Women have to choose between violence at home and unsafe streets. They are between a rock and a hard place.”

Many immigrant women seek her organization’s help because they have no network of friends and relatives, and because her teams can communicate in many different API languages.

More “cultural competency” in homeless services is needed if more people from a variety of communities are to be engaged, says Va Lecia Adams Kellum, the executive director of the St. Joseph Center, an organization that annually provides housing, mental health, educational, and vocational services to about 6,500 people in South Los Angeles and the city’s Westside.

The size of the homeless population that is African American is extremely disproportionate, she says. African American Angelenos are 39 percent of the homeless population in a city that is only 9 percent black.

“Who we hire makes a difference in this work,” she says. “African Americans and Latinos should be among those hired. It’s called ‘cultural competence’ and we should demand it.”

Moreover, ending homeless isn’t rocket science, according to Libby Boyce, the director of access, referral, and engagement for L.A. County’s Housing for Health program.

“The solution is housing with services,” she says. ”We know how to solve this problem. We just need the resources to reach all the homeless in our communities … The vast majority on our streets are long-term homeless and many have mental health problems and substance abuse problems.”

Reba Stevens is a Los Angeles resident who was homeless for 21 years until she obtained medical help for her substance use disorder. She jokes that when she first heard about Measure H, she changed her name to Reba “Measure H” Stevens.

“Supportive services are the reason I’ve been continuously housed the past 17 years,” she says. “Measure H will provide the resources to address individual needs.”

County Backs City Housing Bond on 3-0 Vote

September 8, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

County supervisors went on record Tuesday in favor of a City of Los Angeles bond measure that would generate $1.2 billion to fund the construction of affordable housing, including permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless.

The Board of Supervisors’ vote in support of Proposition H was 3-0, with Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe abstaining.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas recommended backing the November ballot measure, which he said would “make a significant dent in homelessness.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called the proposition “HHH, which I say stands for homeless, housing and hope.”

Garcetti pointed to the success of concentrated efforts by county and city leaders to house homeless veterans.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 2016 count found that while homelessness had increased nearly 6 percent overall since 2015, the number of veterans living on the street was down 44 percent countywide.

The mayor had initially set a 2015 deadline for finding homes for all homeless vets and said today that the city was 1,200 to 1,500 units away from “declaring victory,” a milestone he thought would be hit next year.

However, more non-veterans are living in tents on the street, under freeway overpasses and on hillsides.

From “every corner of this city, you can see homeless people,” Garcetti told the supervisors.

City and county leaders have both been working to raise funds to combat homelessness, with Ridley-Thomas leading a push for Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency related to the issue.

Brown has said such a declaration would be inappropriate, though the Legislature has approved $2 billion for the construction of permanent supportive housing statewide.

LAHSA has estimated that 15,000 supportive units are needed to house the “unsheltered homeless,” while the California Housing Partnership calculates a 500,000-unit deficit in affordable housing countywide.

Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said Prop. H would create a “qualitative shift” in homelessness and triple the city’s capacity to build new units.

Ridley-Thomas said construction was just part of the story.

“Units without services is a half loaf at best,” he said.

The county’s chief executive officer and LAHSA estimate that another $450 million will be needed annually to pay for homeless supportive service like mental health care and substance abuse programs.

The board has considered a number of solutions, including a millionaire’s tax, a quarter-cent sales tax and a tax on marijuana, but could not agree on an alternative to put before voters this November.

The Homelessness Reduction and Prevention, Housing and Facilities General Obligation Bond Proposition requires the support of two-thirds of voters to pass.

 

L.A. Councils Backs State “Emergency Declaration” on Homelessness

August 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles City Council joined state lawmakers Tuesday in urging Gov. Jerry Brown to declare homelessness a statewide emergency, an action that would fast-track assistance and housing for indigent residents.

The council approved a resolution supporting HR 56 and SR 84, two bills in the state legislature that urges Brown to apply this tool to homelessness.

City officials say there are more than 115,000 homeless people in California, 28,000 of whom are in Los Angeles, and that homelessness is straining local government agencies’ ability to offer public safety and social services.

The city plans to spend $138 million on homelessness services and housing programs, and put a $1.2 billion bond measure on the November ballot to generate ongoing funding to fight homelessness, city officials said.

“We need real solutions to one of the biggest problems facing the residents of Los Angeles,” said Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who chairs the council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee. “Our leaders in Sacramento have taken the huge step of authoring HR 56 and SR 84, and now we need to follow through and declare a state of emergency.”

“Homelessness is an all hands on deck problem that requires solutions at every level of government,” he said.

L.A. Seeks Proposals to Build Housing for the Homeless

July 27, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The city of Los Angeles officially put out a call Monday for developers to submit plans for building homeless housing at eight city-owned properties.

City leaders are looking to build more housing for the homeless as part of a larger plan to fight homelessness in Los Angeles, where about 27,000 are thought to be living on the streets.

City officials are asking affordable housing developers to submit proposals for what they believe can be done with the eight properties, with the hope that the parcels can either be developed into housing or sold off to raise money for housing projects elsewhere.

The developers would be placed on a list of pre-qualified firms for the proposed projects.

City leaders have adopted a $138 million plan to address homelessness in the upcoming year, and have also placed a $1.2 billion parcel tax measure on the November ballot aimed at raising a sustained source of funds for homeless housing projects.

The city’s housing department is also moving forward with its own slate of affordable and homeless housing projects at 13 other city-owned cites, according to the mayor’s office.

L.A. Approves Amnesty Plan for Illegal Dwellings

May 12, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to grant amnesty to existing illegal dwelling units at multi-family complexes as long as certain affordability requirements are met.

The measure is aimed at preserving housing units at risk of being taken off the market amid a housing crisis in Los Angeles, with city officials estimating that 400-500 units are eliminated each year following inspections of multi-family units.

The City Council directed the City Attorney to draft an ordinance that would give owners of multi-family complexes a path toward making their unapproved units legal.

Under the policy, property owners would need to follow a set of requirements, one of which is to make one additional unit on the property affordable for very low, low or moderate income households for at least 55 years.

In order to discourage the construction of more illegal units, property owners must prove the units they are trying to legalize existed as of Dec. 10, 2015.

The amnesty measure would not apply to illegal units on single-family properties — such as granny flats or garage conversions — which are being addressed separately.

The proposed ordinance would only apply to illegal units converted from non-residential spaces — such as recreation rooms — into living units.

Councilman Felipe Fuentes, who proposed the measure, says existing city laws do not give property owners enough time to work at bringing their illegal units into compliance, leading to tenant evictions in about 80 percent of such dwellings found by the city.

The city issued citations against the owners of 2,560 illegal units between 2010 and 2015, according to a city report. While 201 were legalized, 1,765 were ultimately removed, which is estimated to have reduced the city’s net housing creation by nearly 10 percent during that period.

City inspectors have said that owners of illegal properties are usually capable of meeting building and safety requirements but are discouraged by zoning rules limiting the number of units they are allowed to have.

Property owners are often put off by the $20,000 price tag for seeking a zoning variance that would permit the extra unit, and instead opt to take the unit off the market entirely, leaving tenants without housing, city planning officials said in a report.

Other cities, such as San Francisco, West Hollywood and Santa Monica, have already established ways for legalizing unapproved housing units.

L.A. Law Will Allow Homeless to Keep Belongings

March 31, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles City Council Wednesday tentatively approved revisions to a law that prohibits the storage of property in public areas such as sidewalks, making it so that at least for now, transients will be allowed to keep 60 gallons worth of belongings.

The move came over the objections of advocates for the homeless, who say the law essentially makes homelessness a crime.

The council voted 13-1 to sign off on amendments – including the 60- gallon provision – to the city law known as 56.11 that prohibits tents and other living space to be set up between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. and currently does not allow any storage of personal property in public areas.

Because the vote was not unanimous, the ordinance will return for a second and final vote on April 6.

Councilman Gil Cedillo voted against the revisions. He said there was no need to adopt such a measure because there are other laws that could address concerns raised today by homeowners and others about criminal activity, obstruction of accessibility in public areas and unsanitary conditions associated with homeless encampments.

Councilman Mike Bonin said he was not completely happy with the ordinance, but considered it an improvement over the one now on the books, which only allows homeless individuals to keep as many belongings as they can carry.

The City Council has been under pressure to strengthen the law against legal challenges from advocates for the homeless, and to avoid being seen as criminalizing them.

Top homeless services officials for the city and county also urged the city to change the law to remove any aspects that would criminalize homelessness, saying that failing to do so would jeopardize about $110 million in federal funding needed to provide housing and other services to the homeless.

The City Council voted last November to amend the law to remove aspects that could be seen as criminalizing homelessness. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the first chunk of the funding – $84.2 million – to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

But the City Council did not move until today to approve the actual language of the amendments promised last fall, and advocates for the homeless say the revisions still contain criminal penalties and provisions that would punish the homeless for being forced to live on the streets.

Under the revisions, it would be unlawful for homeless individuals and others who refuse to take down their encampments during the day or prevent a city employee from doing so.

It would also be a misdemeanor if an individual delays, resists or obstructs a city employee from moving, removing, impounding or discarding personal property stored in a public area.

Homeless individuals would be allowed to store a 60-gallon bin’s worth of belongings – including deconstructed tents, bedding, clothes, food, medicine, documents and other personal items – on the sidewalk as long as they are attended.

The city could still impound property that is left unattended and any property that is in excess of the 60 gallons, under the revised ordinance.

City attorneys said earlier this month the amendments are aimed at giving the city a way to keep sidewalks clear and accessible while allowing homeless individuals to keep some belongings if there are no other places to store them.

Assistant City Attorney Valerie Flores told the Homelessness and Poverty Committee that the 60-gallon provision was included in the hope of striking “the right balance,” but added that “this is sort of uncharted territory” in terms of whether the courts would accept it.

She said the provision is an improvement over the existing law, which “did not allow anything a person couldn’t carry.”

“We do believe this is a lawful ordinance and a court would appreciate the dueling interests that we’re trying to serve and hopefully uphold the ordinance,” Flores said.

The proposed ordinance could cost the Los Angeles area the remaining $24 million in HUD grants being sought by the city and county’s joint homelessness services authority “at a time when the city and county can scarcely afford to lose a single dollar in federal funding for the homeless,” , according to the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

County Approves ‘Sober Center’ for Skid Row

March 24, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved plans for a “sobering center” on Skid Row, an attempt to divert homeless alcoholics away from jail and emergency rooms and toward treatment.

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis, who recommended opening the center, said many homeless individuals with chronic alcoholism bounce back and forth between Skid Row and County-USC Medical Center’s emergency room up to 50 times a year.

Those who pose a danger to themselves or others are arrested. Others found unconscious or staggering in the street following a 911 call are taken to the hospital by firefighters and paramedics.

Paramedics end up waiting up to six hours to get the patients admitted into the overcrowded emergency room, something they call “wall time,” according to the supervisors’ motion.

The scenario plays out hundreds of times a month, with no meaningful intervention for the patients, Ridley-Thomas said.

“This is a smart approach designed to save taxpayer dollars, improve the downtown area, free up scarce emergency resources and help the homeless heal,” Ridley-Thomas said.

The sobering center will move into a complex of modular buildings at 640/646 Maple Ave. recently vacated by the Department of Mental Health.

The 9,500-square-foot facility is expected to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and require $2 million in one-time funding and $3.4 million in annual operating costs. If it achieves 60 percent of the goal of handling 8,000 visits annually, it will save the county $9.6 million each year, according to the motion.

The idea is that severely intoxicated homeless individuals would stay an average of eight to 23 hours in the center. Once sober, staffers would help link them to substance abuse treatment, housing and other support services aimed at breaking the cycle of dependency.

“With county-employed health professionals and service providers on site, it is my hope we can reduce the number of individuals on the street and connect them with the resources they need to make positive changes,” Solis said.

The supervisors cited support from the business community.

“This is a compassionate and cost-effective solution,” said Carol Schatz, president and CEO of the Central City Association, a business advocacy organization. “This is one small, but very important step to help the county’s homeless population and provide a clear path for recovery.”

Homeless’ RVs Are Impounded After Complaints

February 18, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

Outraged community members are organizing to demand answers from local authorities after some Recreational Vehicles parked along Figueroa Street in Highland Park were impounded on Friday.

Rebecca Prine, volunteer director with Recycled Resources for the Homeless—a nonprofit helping homeless—said via email the organization wasn’t notified about the sweep in front of the Sycamore Grove Park and blames local Councilman Gil Cedillo for leaving people in need without a home and with the possibility of increasing park and street homelessness.

Witness of the towing, Jaime Kate told EGP “two or three” RVs were towed “and at least one car.”

During the homeless count organized last month by the Los Angeles Homeless Authority—the agency in charge of providing services to homeless—over 30 Recreational Vehicles (RVs) were counted as permanent homes for people living in the northeast, according to Recycled Resources.

Prine said many of the RV residents are people displaced from their homes in the northeast as they were given rental increases they were unable to afford.

“Had Recycled Resources for the Homeless been made aware of this action we would have used funding we have collected to assist our neighbors experiencing homelessness,” said Prine.

Fredy Ceja, communications director with the councilman told EGP there was no sweep. “There are parking restrictions on Figueroa, which if not adhered to, result in fines.”

After violating parking restrictions, RVs on Figueroa Street impounded by police. (Courtesy of Jaime Kate)

After violating parking restrictions, RVs on Figueroa Street impounded by police. (Courtesy of Jaime Kate)

He explained that some of the RVs have been in the same location for over a year and Recycled Resources is aware of it.

“You can’t leave your car for a long period of time in the same spot.”

Constituents of the area have been complaining with the police and the councilman’s office due to “loitering and illicit activities,” said Ceja.

He said parking enforcement advised the owners to move their vehicles, and while some of the RVs moved across the street, others stayed in the same spot, which led to their towing.

Wednesday night community members reunited at the All Episcopal Church in Highland Park—which currently serves as shelter for over 30 homeless people—to talk about the issue and find solutions to assist people in getting their RVs back as well as to work in a solution to help the owners.

Recycled Resources stated that “this community belongs to everyone, not just those who can afford to live here,” and they would like to see resources for every social economic level in the community.

“We would like to work toward establishing a safe place for people to park RVs, with resources for bathrooms and waste disposal here in the community they call home,” said Prine.

Ceja said Cedillo’s office is looking for places to park the RVs without problems. In the mean time, he said it would be good if the church provides space to park some RVs on its parking lot.

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