Abandoned Animals Need a Home

Los Angeles County has the largest number of abandoned cats and dogs in the nation, with more than 90,000 strays housed in county shelters in one year. It is an overwhelming task to manage so many animals, with six shelters nearly filled to capacity.

“It is mindboggling,” said Evelina Villa, outreach assistant for the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control. “We do whatever we can and we hold them as long as we have the space but if we don’t have the space we do have to euthanize.”

Sadly, last year more than 42,000 cats and dogs were put to sleep. To avoid this, the department has initiated a variety of innovative approaches to get pets adopted. They partner with several adoption agencies to find placements for pets including cross-country rescue efforts. For example, New York’s North Shore Animal League takes in many of Los Angeles’ smaller breeds like Chihuahua’s and Pomeranians that are more apartment friendly.  “The humane thing to do is find these animals a home,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “I commend the Department of Animal Care and Control for their outstanding efforts.”

Animal Care officials also hold several off site adoption events at pet stores and parks where animals are brought to the public. They have found that nearly 70 percent of the pets that are brought to these off site locations are taken in. In fact, last year, more dogs were adopted than were euthanized. “In order to manage the numbers, we have to think outside the box,” said Villa.  To raise awareness, February has been designated “spay and neuter” month and all pet owners are encouraged to “fix” their pets. Because of the surplus of animals in need of a home, pet owners should think twice about breeding, said Villa. There are several facilities that offer low cost operations and can be found in any zip code through the website www.foundanimals.org.  “Breeding is a problem. People do not need to breed their pets,” she said. “Instead of breeding, spay and neuter them. It makes them better pets.”

St. Bernard mix named Daisy was adopted at one of the county's weekly adoption events.

At one of the county’s weekly adoption events recently, three of the dogs, a St. Bernard mix, a Pomeranian and a terrier were adopted. Judy Whitehurst who is an assistant county counsel, met the St. Bernard mix named Daisy and knew she had to take her home. Her five-year-old golden retriever Odie was in need of a friend and she figured her 11-year-old son would be thrilled. Whitehurst was unsure what her husband would say, but when he saw a picture of the pup, he agreed. “We told our son I was going to bring home a Valentine’s surprise,” she said. “My husband gave him a hint and told him it was bigger than a bread box and smaller than a car. All our son could think of was a go-kart. But when he saw Daisy, he was much happier with her than with a go-kart.”

Board Seeks $1 Billion Owed to Superior Court System

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday took an important step toward securing more funding for county’s beleaguered Superior Court system, which faces cutbacks and closure due to state budget difficulties, by seeking new ways to collect an enormous backlog of court fees and fines.

The value of uncollected judgments issued by the Los Angeles Superior Court totals more than $1 billion, a sum representing a significant loss of revenue to the County of Los Angeles.

Acting on a motion by Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, the supervisors have instructed the auditor-controller’s office to conduct a comprehensive audit of the county’s existing court collections contract with an eye to maximizing the effort.

Each year, approximately 480,000 cases of uncollected court fines and fees, valued at $380 million, are referred to a contract collection agency whenever a fine or fee has not been paid, a court appearance date has been missed or restitution is not paid after a court appearance. On the average, one-quarter of these cases are settled judicially, and for those that are not, the collection agency attempts to obtain the delinquent amount for three years. Typically, up to 30% is collected and after three years, the remainder is referred to the state Franchise Tax Board for collection. The state has a 10% collection rate.

Given the significant volume and value of delinquent accounts, it is crucial that the county identify and understand how it can increase the efficacy of its collections efforts.

“We must make this effort,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. Over the past several years, the Los Angeles Superior Court has had unprecedented reductions in its services and has laid off hundreds of employees, closed courtrooms and curtailed or eliminated crucial services to the public. This isn’t just a decline in service though, it’s a decline in justice.”

For the fiscal year beginning July 1, the Superior Court is projecting a shortfall of between $50 million to $80 million, which would result in further staff reductions, more courtroom closures and a reduction of services to the public.

“Collecting this money is only the first step toward shoring up the Superior Court system,” said the Supervisor. “But in this economic environment, we cannot afford to ignore $1 billion of potential revenue.”

Sex Trafficking in Los Angeles

Human trafficking survivor and advocate, Nola Brantley, educates Los Angeles County employees.

It is estimated that hundreds of girls as young as 12 are the victims of human trafficking every year in Los Angeles.

This is how it happens. Often, she is as young as 12. She doesn’t have a family. She longs for love and safety. She meets a man who sweet-talks her, promises her love, protection and money, buys her favorite brand of sneakers or splurges on an iPod. Except nothing is free. He will then coerce her with threats and violence and force to her make a quota of $500 to $1,000 a night by selling her body to men up to three times her age.

She is beaten and starved if she doesn’t make her quota – day after day of statutory rape. She doesn’t get to keep the money and has no refuge. Her best option is to get arrested.

That’s the world of child commercial sex trafficking, a growing problem in Los Angeles County.

“Selling children has become more profitable than drugs,” said Nola Brantley, co-founder and executive director of the Oakland-based advocacy group, Motivating Inspiring Supporting & Serving Sexually Exploited Youth or MISSSEY. “It’s an issue that impacts people all over the world. Here, children living in poverty, children in the foster care system are at a huge risk.”

Brantley has been visiting Los Angeles as part of an education and outreach effort to help elected officials, law enforcement, social workers, probation officers, judges, and others understand the horrors of child sex trafficking and what can be done.

“The trafficking, abuse and sexual exploitation of children is abhorrent and it must be stopped,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “We must stop looking at these children as criminals and instead view them as victims. We must crack down on the pimps and the customers that are making this one of the greatest human rights problems of our time.”

Throughout Los Angeles County, significantly more girls are arrested for prostitution compared to the number of pimps and consumers. With the passage of Proposition 35 last year, which increases prison sentences and fines for human trafficking convictions and requires convicted human traffickers to register as sex offenders, the number of cases against pimps and traffickers has at least increased.

However, cases against consumers are rarely prosecuted as felonies and are normally sent to the city attorney’s office as misdemeanors. Officials are finding the profile of a consumer covers a broad spectrum ranging from blue collar workers up to men of influence.

The first step in combating this problem, said Brantley, a nationally recognized expert on the subject, is understanding that a sexually exploited and trafficked child should not be viewed as a prostitute.

“There is no such thing as a child or teen prostitute,” she said. “Prostitution requires consent. Right now, this is considered a victimless crime. We have to change that.”

In Los Angeles County, the Probation Department has largely led the effort to recognize when a child is being trafficked. Currently, there are several county programs including the Department of Children and Family Services’ Compton Teen Task Force, which helps identify at-risk youth, the district attorney’s diversion program and a collaborative court program to help sexually exploited teens re-enroll in school, get counseling, receive advocacy services from other survivors and shelter.

Sometimes, obvious signs are missed as a result of a lack of knowledge, said Michelle Guymon, Director of Los Angeles’ Probation Department’s sex trafficking project. For instance, in workshops Guymon now stresses the importance of looking for signs of trafficking even if the cases are related to weapons or drug charges because many times, those suspects are also pimps. One giveaway? Too many seemingly underage girls hanging around.

“Human trafficking is what happened to kids in other countries. When I realized the kids I had worked with my whole career were actually victims of exploitation I said “Wow, how did I miss that?’” said Guymon. “You think you have everything covered and then you ask yourself ‘how did I not see what was staring at me right in the face?’”

They are also learning how pimps terrorize and control their victims. One chilling tactic that Brantley has noticed in Los Angeles is the tattooing of girls on the face so that if they escape, they are easily identifiable on the street and retrieved by their pimps. It is difficult to prosecute pimps and the consumers in part because the girls are scared of the consequences or are sometimes afflicted by Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological phenomenon where captives identify with their abuser.

Another tactic used by pimps is called “guerrilla pimping,” where an unsuspecting girl is snatched off the street, raped, drugged and then enslaved into sex trafficking.

The good news, however, is that Brantley and other advocates rely on survivors of sex trafficking as mentors and counselors to help victims out of the life. In Los Angeles, more than 60 girls are actively involved in survivor leadership programs. Being a survivor of sex trafficking herself, Brantley understands the power of turning her life around and then helping others heal.

“There is a lot of love out there. I love mentoring other survivors. It is a community we have developed,” she said. “It has been great and very rewarding.”

Avid Readers Win Bookmark Contest

Jozeline Alvarenga may only be 11-years-old, but whether she is captivated by the horror stories of Steven King, lost in the fast-paced suspense penned by Dean Koontz or studying a classic poem by Edgar Allen Poe, the fifth grader at 122nd Street Elementary School says reading offers her “the passageway to a new world.” Alvarenga, a voracious reader who loves a scary story, was one of 21 students in Los Angeles County selected as a winner in the 33rd annual County of Los Angeles Public Library Annual Bookmark Contest . Before being honored at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting for their accomplishments, Alvarenga and other winners joined Board Chairman Mark-Ridley-Thomas and other Supervisors at a breakfast reception for their families.

“I like the scary stuff,” she said at the reception. “But really, I like everything. I like school.”

The annual bookmark competition is meant to inspire generations of young readers to cozy up with books and escape into those worlds. More than 10,000 children throughout the county submitted their work to be selected, and the chosen bookmarks will be professionally printed as bookmarks for library patrons and the winners. At least four winners were chosen from each of the county’s five districts.

For 17-year-old Christian Fuentes, a senior at Washington Prep., books let him escape into another world. He is partial to edgy works and authors like the Los Angeles poet and novelist Charles Bukowski or Chuck Palahnuik’s vicious Fight Club. These are not books on his high school’s reading list but Christian devours them anyway.

“It’s like a time capsule. Hunter S. Thompson’s world is all about the 70’s,” he said, noting one of his favorite authors and the subject of his bookmark, which depicts an alien-like creature with many eyes and a large mouth holding a copy of Thompson’s cult classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. “Books preserve the time they are written about.”

Renovating and building new libraries has been a priority for Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, including the brand new East Rancho Dominguez library. Chairman Ridley-Thomas has also been on the forefront of supporting the Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom Schools program that provides summer and after-school enrichment that helps children fall in love with reading.

“You represent the best of what Los Angeles County is about,” he said to the group of students assembled early Tuesday morning. “You have read books, stimulated your mind and expanded your universe. Literacy matters. It is important.”

And while 7-year-old Javier Toscano, Jr. was too shy to say anything at the event, he stood impressively in a coat and tie next to his bookmark, a beaming smile across his face. Javier has been encouraged to read not only by his parents but also by his 11- and 13-year-old sisters.

“They sit him down and say, ‘let’s play like we’re in school,’” said Lourdes Toscano, his mother. “He loves to read and he does it whenever he can. We are very proud.”

Serving Jobs to Those Who Have Served

On March 20, the University of Southern California will sponsor a veteran hiring event designed to provide real jobs to those in need. According to the United States Census Bureau, there are 354,430 veterans in Los Angeles County. While most are old enough to have served in Vietnam, 36,000 have served since 2001. Finding good jobs is critical to the financial and emotional health of these new veterans, but researchers have found that nearly 19% are unemployed and thousands are falling into poverty and suffering from chronic mental health conditions. Unlike traditional job fairs, which often provide mostly informational interviews to job seekers, the event will provide access to employers who are hiring and who have open job opportunities. The morning will focus on educational sessions to help veterans communicate with employers in addition to translating military skills to the job market. The afternoon will feature a hiring event where veterans can meet with employers to discuss position for which they are actively recruiting.

Providing veterans with jobs and housing has been a long-standing priority for Los Angeles County Chairman, Mark Ridley-Thomas. For example, in October 2012, the supervisor co-authored a motion to provide $11 million in funding for affordable housing projects that will benefit homeless people, low-income veterans and other at risk populations. Approximately 176 units are expected to be built as a result of this investment.

Veterans are also a key component of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s historic agency wide Project Labor Agreement authored by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and supported by a broad coalition of labor organizations, community activists and other elected officials last year. Under the provisions of the agreement, 10% of those who are covered by the agreement must be disadvantaged — meaning they meet at least two of nine criteria, including homelessness, chronic unemployment, and are veterans.

“Providing access to gainful employment for those who have served our country is essential,” said Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “How well we treat our veterans is a indicator of our society’s commitment both to fairness and to economic justice.”

For more information and to register for the USC Veteran Hiring Event, click here.