Local Worker Gets Second Chance

Homeless and recently released from prison in 2011, Blair Martin knew she needed a big break to get back on her feet. Little did she know that her opportunity would happen so near her hometown of Compton.

Martin had worked all sorts of jobs that were either short lived or uninspiring — like driving a truck for her uncle’s now defunct trucking business or manning a cash register at McDonald’s for eight dollars an hour. So when she was given a chance to interview for a spot on the construction crew of the new MLK outpatient center in Willowbrook, she jumped at it.

The 23-year-old knew she had to make a good impression at the interview and prove that despite her past, she was ready for new future. Martin convinced the hire ups at Sharpe Interior Systems that she wanted a career—not a job and her enthusiasm, broad smile and willingness to work were persuasive. She was hired.

Martin is one of nine women on a crew of more than 130 working on the construction of the MLK outpatient center. When it opens in 2014, the center is expected to provide state of the art outpatient care including primary, specialty and urgent care for those not needing an overnight hospital stay.

Martin benefitted from the local worker hiring program, which Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas has championed on all construction projects in the Second District and the county. On most county jobs, at least 30 percent of the workforce must come from the area and some must be “disadvantaged local workers” meaning that they are homeless or parolees, like Martin.

It is not an easy job. The days are long and arduous.

Her shift begins before 6 a.m. On any given day, Martin, like the men on the job, carries wooden beams and 12-foot-long sheets of wallboard; saw dust and fine particles of dirt swirl in the air, covering the skin in a dusty film. The constant noise from saws, hammers and drills is deafening. Paying attention to her surroundings is key—there are holes in the ground, people walking around with long steel beams and dangling wires everywhere.

Larry Shufelt, the general foreman on the project who hired Martin, estimates that only 1 out of 5 apprentices make it through the end of the three-year training program to become journeyman-or a full union member.

Trainees such as Martin get both on-the-job training but also grounding in job skills important to all employers: “We talk to them about punctuality, attendance and discipline,” he said. “Blair’s work ethic is top notch.”

For Martin, much is at stake: a new life.

“Prison made me change a whole lot,” she said. “I realized I didn’t need a job—I needed a career that I can do for the rest of my life and that I will actually enjoy doing.”

So, while her new career is tough, it has provided a new path and Martin has embraced it fearlessly, said Shufelt.

“In this job, you have to climb high on scaffolding and some don’t like it,” he said. “She is not afraid of heights.”

But in order to climb, she needed a custom made harness for her petite frame. When the order was placed, Shufelt’s boss asked if Martin was worth the investment.

“I looked at him and said, ‘yeah, she is worth investing in,’” he said. “She is going to make it.”

The Woman Building the New MLK Multi-Service Outpatient Center

All right, Esther Diaz, the senior project manager overseeing construction of the new Martin Luther King Multi-Service Outpatient Center in Willowbrook isn’t building the project all by herself. A crew of workers including, electricians, mechanics and plumbers have been working on the beautiful new facility since it broke ground last January.

Still, as the project manager on one of the most exciting health care construction projects in the county, she manages the $167-million project and is responsible for seeing that the center is delivered by the fall of this year. When completed, the 135,550-square-foot multi-service center will be one of three jewels on the MLK Medical Center Campus, joining the new hospital and new Center for Public Health. Together, these facilities will deliver preventive, emergency, diagnostic and wellness healthcare services to the residents of South Los Angeles in an unprecedented way. In the coming years, the campus will include a new mental health urgent care center, medical office space, residential facilities for seniors and medical interns.

Since the project broke ground last year, construction workers have been hard at work installing the multi- service outpatient center ’s structural steel frame, exterior walls, and enclosing the building. To date, mechanical, electrical and plumbing are estimated to be about 70 percent complete and interior finishes are now underway, according to Diaz.

When completed, the facility will undergo a rigorous inspection process by state and county officials before opening. The center will offer specialty treatments such as dialysis, physical therapy, urgent care and outpatient surgery. Until that time, the 41-year-old East Los Angeles native is a familiar sight overseeing the construction, amid the exposed wiring and dry wall, clad in a hard hat and steel-toed boots.

Diaz also oversees 130 construction workers, many of whom are part of the local worker hiring program, a policy championed by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas to ensure that local workers who live near the project perform at least 30 percent of the total construction labor hours.

As a 15-year veteran of the Department of Public Works, Diaz sees to it that construction projects throughout the county transition smoothly from conceptual design to actual construction. Along the way, she too has undergone a transition — from proving herself the equal of her peers in a male-dominated field to now leading the way.

“Over the last years, I’ve gained confidence and I’m more relaxed,” Diaz said. “Now I can joke a little more when I’m facilitating a meeting. In the beginning, I was serious because I had to earn the respect from the people in the room with more experience.”

Diaz visits the construction site at least twice a week, and the rest of the time she is troubleshooting issues as they come up — she’s part engineer, part architect, part construction manager.

“I go through some challenges, although they don’t happen on a daily basis, they do happen,” said Diaz. “This job requires you to be a problem solver, listener, analyzer and have the ability to multi-task well.”

As one of the youngest in a family of eight, Diaz learned about hard work from her immigrant parents. Both were blue collar workers who came from Mexico to Los Angeles where they found jobs; her father as a welder and her mother as an assembly line worker. Although her father Alberto died six years ago of cancer, her mother Elodia still lives in Pico Rivera .

“My parents were very hard workers who were very dedicated to their jobs. They never took a day off work,” said Diaz. “My mom worked in the Central Crenshaw area and had to ride the bus for an hour and a half to get to work but she still made it to work on time.”

After graduating from Garfield High School in 1989, Diaz attended California State University, Northridge, where she earned her undergraduate degree in civil engineering. For a while she considered majoring in business but after taking her first engineering class she discovered her love for math. She went on to get her master ‘ s degree in construction management at California State University, Long Beach.

“After taking an engineering class, I knew I had found my passion,” said Diaz. “I can’t say that it was easy. It was challenging but it was also rewarding.”

On her way up the career ladder, she occasionally felt the sting of being overlooked and not taken seriously; Diaz recalls one meeting in particular where a colleague gave credit for her idea to a man in the room.

“I’ve learned to deal with it,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard knowing that I have to prove myself a little bit more and that I have to validate myself with facts but as a woman we have to work a little bit harder.”

But her hard work has paid off and she has the full backing and confidence of her bosses—both of whom are men.

“We are very proud of Esther,” said Diaz’ supervisor David Howard, Los Angeles County Department of Public Works assistant deputy director. “She’s an excellent employee and project manager.”

When Diaz is not at work, she enjoys hiking and traveling out of the country. A glimpse of her passport will reveal that she’s been to Spain, Greece, London, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Hawaii.

Her advice to young women eager to follow in her footsteps:

“Do it. It’s going to be hard work and require a lot of dedication, but at the end of the day it’s very satisfying,” Diaz said. “You can overcome any obstacle that comes your way. If people tell you something is hard. Don’t believe it until you try it.”

Can Housing L.A. County’s Homeless Families Save Money?


In Los Angeles County, 7,391 families struggle nightly to find a way to survive without shelter. In 2010, several agencies began to develop a regional approach to providing not just housing, but supportive services and need-based assistance to better help homeless families regain stability. In some cases, mental health and substance abuse services, or housing assistance made the difference.

The Family Solutions Centers started last March with $3.7 million in city and county funding, with the goal of rapidly rehousing homeless households and offering centers throughout Los Angeles County where homeless can go to have problems professionally assessed. To date, there are seven lead agencies that host Family Solution Centers in six of the eight service planning areas in Los Angeles County. These Family Solutions can direct families to health services, employment assistance services, rental assistance or emergency housing. And the program has already proven to be successful, having seen 1,542 families between March and December. Three hundred and two of those families were able to avoid homelessness, 305 were placed in interim housing, and 417 were provided permanent housing.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved an additional $10.2 million to set up more Family Solution Centers to offer more services. An additional $2.4 million is also being considered for mental health services. The centers will extend to at least eight agencies and promises to service all eight service planning areas in Los Angeles County. The services will be expanded to include social service case managers and substance abuse treatment. The expanded program will promote collaboration between public agencies and homeless service providers and be called the Homeless Family Solutions System. The system also includes the collection of data to assess which programs are working and to track long term success with families.

“Families are the core of our community,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “And today we have the opportunity to improve the way we deliver services to those families most in need.”

Christine Mirasy-Glasco, executive director of Upward Bound House, a community-based social service agency, testified before Board of Supervisors Tuesday in support of expanding Family Solutions Centers. The centers, she said, have streamlined the process of getting help for families. “Families used to have to travel around the entire county every day looking for services,” Mirasy-Glasco said. “This changes all of that.”

A study by the University of Pennsylvania found that 85 percent of homeless people in Philadelphia who were given housing and support were still in housing two years later and were unlikely to become homeless again.
Research shows that people spend less time in expensive emergency rooms and hospital beds when they have housing. Children are able to attend school and do homework when they have a warm home, a bed to sleep in and a sturdy table to write on.

“It is a proven program. It works. And it’s been evaluated,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added, “Without question, supporting homeless families with services and housing saves money in the long run. It simply costs less to serve and house than it does to ignore. It’s an investment in our future.”

Click here for more information about Family Service Centers.

Board Chairmanship 2013: Goals and Achievements

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It has been my honor and pleasure to chair the Board of Supervisors this past year, and I want to convey my heartfelt appreciation to my colleagues on the Board now that my tenure is concluded. The accomplishments we have achieved together this year have been the result of collaboration and cooperation – not the work of just one person. Also, congratulations to Supervisor Don Knabe for assuming the gavel.

This year, the Board identified several priorities where improving accountability and transparency served as the underlying motivation. Now as I end my tenure as Chairman, I am hopeful that some of the work we have done will make a difference in how our constituents receive information about their county government.

On Tuesdays, during our regularly scheduled meetings, we have increased the number of public updates, adding ones from our departments of Health Services and Probation, the Jail Violence Commission Implementation Monitor and more recently from Children and Family Services. These updates are designed to inform the public of the status of significant public policy issues such as the county’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act and Public Safety Realignment, policing and incarceration practices and protection of the children under our responsibility.

One of this year’s accomplishments we can all embrace was the appointment of an inspector general for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. With the confirmation of Max Huntsman, a deputy supervisor in the Public Integrity Division at the L.A. District Attorney’s office we can be more assured that the chronic problems of inmate maltreatment at the hands of deputies will be dealt with in a manner that promotes greater accountability, constitutional policing and restores public confidence.

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Likewise, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, with its mandate to review all the county departments that deal with child welfare, will provide recommendations that I expect will ultimately result in structural, systemic changes that will protect our most vulnerable residents—children.

As Board Chairman, I also had the responsibility of chairing the meetings of the Countywide Criminal Justice Coordination Committee. Together we have worked hard to understand, to measure and to mitigate the impact of realignment – the mandated transfer of inmates from state prisons to Los Angeles County for supervision. Yet by far, it is our ongoing discussions about recidivism, how we define it and how we measure our success at re-entry that have and will be crucial to this effort.  We are looking forward to an annual report that documents the committee’s work and accomplishments this past year. I want to thank Mark Delgado and the committee’s staff for their work this year as well.

I also want to highlight our work on the First 5 L.A. Commission, where we were able to increase funding for early childhood education, develop resources for identifying early signs of autism in younger children and find more money for permanent housing for homeless families. The commission also established programs to help at-risk young fathers and young mothers learn parenting skills. I would like to thank Kim Belshe and the First 5 Commission staff.

I’d like to thank the Chief Officer, County Counsel, the Auditor-Controller and the rest of the County family for their work, patience and cooperation.

Thanks to Sachi Hamai and the staff of the Board Executive office for their support. Their standard of professionalism is one we came to appreciate even more over the course of the last year.

Finally, a very special thanks to the staff members of the Second District, for they have been exemplary and L.A. County is better for it.

A hallmark of our representative government, particularly at the local level, is the ability to turn over the reins of leadership seamlessly.  And while we bring to the chairmanship our own priorities and style, we do so mindful that while we may differ on matters of politics and policy we  uphold a tradition of civil discourse and informed deliberation.

It has been an honor to serve as Board Chairman.Hide content

2012-2013 Board Priorities and Achievements


Children and Families Well-Being Priorities

• Pursue an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach on efforts to address human trafficking

• Support for more effective Transition Age Youth services

 

Achievements

• The Sex Trafficking Task Force created a Countywide response model to combat the sex trafficking of children

• In a joint motion with Supervisor Knabe, called for the State of California to increase criminal penalties for adults who either buy or attempt to buy sex with children by closing the loophole that allow “Johns” to avoid jail time and felony charges

• Departments of Mental Health and Children and Family Services are working together to clarify the Multi-Disciplinary Team recommendations to identify specific treatment services needed and agencies to provide these services within the youths’ neighborhoods
• Department of Public Health created a vetted substance abuse provider list and enhanced their electronic reporting system to identify Probation and DCFS youths who receive their services

• Youths with no substance abuse related court orders are screened for potential substance abuse issues

• Department of Public Social Services’ Pathway to Success program designed a four-week job readiness and job activity course for General Relief Opportunities for Work (GROW) Transition Age Youth participants
• Community and Senior Services implemented a year-round subsidized employment program for low-income or foster/probation youth

• Department of Mental Health will increase psychiatric services that target adolescents by reducing emergency room crisis overcrowding and providing urgent care center access

• A tracking application was created to track outcome data electronically, which obtains data through an electronic interface with DCFS’ Child Welfare Services/Case Management System

Municipal Services and Capital Projects Priorities

• Develop and rationalize the County’s approach to economic development and low and moderate income housing efforts in the aftermath of the dissolution of redevelopment agencies

• Review seismic safety, security and efficiency of the Hall of Administration and develop options for modernization and possible replacement of the building

Achievements

• Community Development Commission and the CEO prepared the Affordable Housing and Economic Development Framework

• In a joint motion with Supervisor Molina, as amended, allocated $15M to the CDC to release an affordable housing Notice of Funding Availability with no less than half of the funds being allocated for homeless-special needs populations

• CEO completed the Phase 1 Building Evaluation Report of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration (HOA) which analyzed the HOA from an architectural, structural, seismic, mechanical, plumbing, life, fire safety and electrical standpoint

• CEO is in process of developing options for replacement of the HOA that will vary in size and cost

Health and Mental Health Priorities

• Implement health care reform

• Leverage MHSA to ensure that the County is making optimal use of the resources it receives

 

Achievements

• Establish goal to meet 300,000 enrollment by December 2013 into Healthy Way LA coverage program

• Established over 130 “Patient-Centered Medical Homes” throughout DHS sites

• Implemented the “Girls Health Screen”, a national health screening protocol for girls entering the County’s Probation camps

• Expand Countywide school-based health centers which are located on school campuses accessible to students and the community-at-large

• Nearing completion for facilities on the Martin Luther King, Jr. medical campus, including the Outpatient Center and the MLK Hospital

• County departments, including Public Health, Health Services, and Public Social Services continue to work on Health Care Reform implementation as well as on targeted outreach efforts

• Expand mental health services in multiple categories including Community Services and Supports, Prevention and Early Intervention and Innovations projects.

Public Safety Priorities

• Fully implement AB 109 realignment efforts within the resources established by the funding stream provided by the passage of Proposition 30

• Monitor implementation of the Citizens’ Jail Violence Commission recommendations

 

Achievements

• The departments of Probation, Mental Health and Health Services have co-located at the Pre-Release Center to screen Post-release Supervised Persons’ files before their release to identify potential service needs

• Deputy Probation Officers have been assigned to liaison with several local law enforcement agencies for compliance check operations and absconder searches, leading to the development of a “Best Practices and Guiding Principles” policy

• The Public Safety Realignment Team and the Countywide Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee have established a Countywide definition of recidivism which, in consultation with independent experts, will be used to measure program outcomes

• Approved a 3-phase program to implement recommendations of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence totaling $89 million and the hiring of 278 positions

• Hired Max Huntsman as the Inspector General with LASD oversight responsibilities.


Operations Priorities

• Promote effective development of Information Technology and telecommunications

• Reform and review contracting processes to ensure more effective calendaring and standardized language

Achievements

• County departments continued their virtualization effort, and approximately 80% of the servers are virtualized with over 300 old servers decommissioned

• The departments of Parks and Recreation, Agricultural Commissioner/Weights and Measures, Probation, Auditor-Controller, Regional Planning and Public Defender successfully migrated to the centralized email system

• New mobile sites for the departments of Human Resources and Consumer Affairs have been launched, and the departments of Probation, Animal Care and Control and Health Services launched new websites using the County’s shared portal infrastructure

• County departments collaborated to develop a Countywide Contract Management System application that is integrated with the County’s enterprise financial and procurement system

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[VIDEO] Hundreds March Against Sex Trafficking

Chants of “Our children are not for sale!” echoed loudly along a stretch of Long Beach Boulevard as nearly 400 residents, members of church organizations, community activists and elected officials marched from Compton to Lynwood, ignoring a light evening drizzle to bring attention to the plight of children who are sexually trafficked.

“Every day, children as young as 12 are bought and sold by adult men,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who organized the march. “We will shine a light on this despicable behavior. You, who come here days, nights, weekends to buy these girls, we see you. And we will bring changes throughout Los Angeles County and the state of California.”

[raw]The march, which began at Palmer Avenue in Compton and ended at Helen Keller Elementary School in Lynwood, was attended by State Senator Holly Mitchell, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, Compton Mayor Aja Brown, attorney and social justice advocate Sandra Fluke and other local officials as well as community residents. Marchers followed a 1.6-mile route that is often the site where “johns” and “pimps” buy and sell young victims. Seedy motels and some businesses along the corridor also contribute to this activity.

Human sex trafficking is a $32 billion dollar business increasingly run by gangs. The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that 100,000 children in the United States are sold for sex each year. In Los Angeles, it is estimated that as many as 3,000 children are trafficked.


Sheriff Baca pledged that his department would arrest the men who have sex with underage girls.

“These young girls are victims. Our strategy is not to put them in a prosecutorial place but to save them from those who should be prosecuted,” he said.

At the event, survivors moved the crowd by telling their stories and calling for action.

“As a child, I was bought and sold here on these streets,” said D’Lita Miller, who was kidnapped and raped at 11 and ultimately forced into the life of sexual exploitation. Miller, who is now an advocate for girls, with the organization Saving Innocence, urged the crowd to look at girls on the street with compassion and love.

“I stand here as a voice for the voiceless. These are not prostitutes. These are children of God. Stand up because they need you. All of you here are making a statement.”

Maria Suarez, with the National Council of Jewish Women, was purchased for $200 at the age of 15 and endured years of beatings and sexual exploitation, thanked the crowd.

“It is so beautiful to see everyone here,” she said. “We are human beings. We are not disposable. I encourage all of you to keep on fighting.”

Many residents said they turned out for the march after witnessing too many lewd acts committed by men with young victims in parked cars, or coming in and out of a row of seedy motels and the adjacent alleyways. Much of the activity occurs in front of the school or in the school parking lot when children are getting in and out of school.

The march even drew residents from Long Beach, who said that what happens on the stretch of boulevard in Compton and Lynwood can also affect their own community as well.

“We are neighbors,” said Carlos Valdez of the Coolidge Triangle community in Long Beach, noting that whenever law enforcement cracks down on the trafficking activity in Lynwood and Compton, it gets pushed into their neighborhood. “We know that this can be a cat and mouse game. So we like to get involved.”

Senator Mitchell pledged to the crowd that her first pieces of legislation in January would attack the issue of sex trafficking in California.

“If you are here tonight, that means you intend to do something about this travesty happening in our state and our country,” she said. “Thank you for making a public commitment to do the right thing for our children.”

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