First 5 LA Allocates $10 Million to Aid Homeless Families

First 5 LA, a nonprofit organization that funds early education programs for children from infancy to the age of five, allocated $10 million to provide rental assistance to homeless families and supportive services to those at risk of becoming homeless.

The nonprofit’s board also voted to eliminate a past program requirement that limited eligibility to applicants with an allegation of family abuse or neglect that had been investigated by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.

The motion, brought by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman and First 5 Commission Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas, guarantees that hundreds of low-income families will receive the support services they need to get back on their feet. The assistance typically lasts six to nine months.

“This motion is intended to keep families together, off the streets and with a roof over their heads,” said the supervisor after the vote. “I applaud First 5 in taking these important steps to prevent kids from being homeless and — even worse — separated from their families.”

Data shows that children in families that become homeless are at a significantly higher risk of being removed from the family.

“A safe, stable home every night plays a critical role in supporting the overall development of L.A. County’s children,” said First 5 LA Executive Director Kim Belshé. “The additional funds approved by the First 5 LA Commission will help ensure more families with young children are able to secure the housing and supportive services so vital to strengthening families and improving child outcomes.”

At the meeting, Karen Acfalle, director of family programs for Beyond Shelter, publically recalled a family of eight, with six children, ages 2 to 15-years-old who came to her office a year ago for assistance.

The family lost their oldest child who was 21 years old in an accident on the I-5 freeway. They exhausted their savings to pay for the funeral and during the same time the father lost his job. Eviction from their home followed, as did a hardscrabble life: the family, which slept in its minivan, dined by heating frozen burritos on the dashboard, visited the local Laundromat for hot water for their instant noodles and showered at the YMCA. Acfalle, noted that the passage of today’s motion will allow Beyond Shelter to find permanent housing for the family.

“This motion means that there is hope for this family,” said Acfalle. “Housing is a right and the financial support from this motion will help this family regain efficiency and obtain housing.”

Joining Acfalle in testimony at the First 5 LA Board meeting were speakers from Upward Bound House, Shelter Partnership, Inc., the Community Development Commission of the County of Los Angeles and L.A. Family Housing who each attested to both the need and the ability to assist more families with this motion.

Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Molina Call for Citizens Oversight Commission for Sheriff’s Department


In a swift response to the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights investigation into whether Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies have abused inmates, Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina are calling for the creation of a permanent citizen’s oversight commission.

The latest probe into the county jails, which will focus specifically on the treatment of mentally ill inmates, significantly expands the federal government’s ongoing investigations into the jails. A criminal investigation into allegations of excessive force and other wrongdoing has been underway since 2011. Similar concerns about use of force and abuse by jail deputies are also the centerpiece of the civil probe.

“The seriousness of this new investigation and the allegations of abuse that prompted it cannot be ignored,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “The sheriff’s department has long required a level of scrutiny that has been missing, and although the board only controls it’s budget, the department is there to serve the citizens of L.A. County, and that’s who should have greater oversight.”

“Transparency, without question, is needed to ensure that there is proper oversight of the sheriff’s department,” said Supervisor Molina. “A sheriff’s department oversight commission is the best vehicle to ensure accountability.”

In their motion to establish a Los Angeles County Citizen’s Law Enforcement Commission, the supervisors maintain that the new investigation dramatizes the need for heightened scrutiny of the sheriff’s department. Continued allegations of excessive force, significant litigation costs and a moral imperative to ensure constitutionally appropriate policing in the jails and communities justifies the establishment of an oversight entity without delay. Structural reform clearly will require more than intermittent and temporary examination of the department.

Although the board’s authority over the sheriff, who is an elected official, largely is limited to budgetary matters, the supervisors clearly have the authority to establish an independent advisory citizen’s oversight commission – as it has done in the past.

The supervisors’ motion, to be voted on at this Tuesday’s meeting, calls for each supervisor to appoint a commissioner to the panel by October 15. In addition, it calls for a funding and staffing plan for the commission and for county counsel to cement the commission’s role with language formalizing the relationship between the Sheriff’s Department, the Office of the Inspector General and the board.

It’s Official: USC Signs Coliseum Agreement

Left to right: Councilman Tom LaBonge, Supervisor Don Knabe, Councilman Curren Price, California Science Center Board of Directors Chair Fabian Wesson, USC President C.L. Max Nikias, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas

The University of Southern California is now set to manage the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in a lease agreement that will ensure preservation of the historic venue.

The agreement, which was signed this week at the coliseum, guarantees a restored public stadium, which is a federal and state historic landmark, with USC committing to make extensive renovations. The university, which was only 43 years old when the Coliseum opened in 1923, also will manage the operations of the Sports Arena in Exposition Park.

Celebrating the occasion, USC President Max Nikias recalled the unique history of the venue, noting that it is the only facility in the country to have hosted two Olympics and two Super Bowl games and a World Series. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1984. USC, he said, would discharge its responsibilities to the Coliseum “with honor.”

The California Science Center Board of Directors signed a new lease agreement with the University of Southern California Tuesday, with the university agreeing to invest $70 million to rehabilitate the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

USC has already invested millions into the Exposition Park neighborhood, helping it become a destination for school children and residents alike. The park is home to three museums including the Museum of Natural History, the California Science Center and the California African American Museum.

The lease agreement was supported by all of the museums in Exposition Park. The Coliseum is also the home field of the USC Trojan football team.

“This university has invested millions into the neighborhood and it has served as a springboard for the advancement of thousands of people, many from this community,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, also a member of the Coliseum Commission. The commission will be reduced in size and will administer relations between USC and the State, City and County, which continue to own the coliseum. “With this agreement, we are counting on USC to protect and restore this landmark for years to come.”

Willowbrook Murals Win Prestigious Art Award

Los Angeles artist Louise Griffin knew she had a challenge on her hands when she saw the ribbed concrete walls lining the Augustus F. Hawkins Mental Health Clinic courtyard. Hired by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission to conceive of a project for the facility, Griffin knew that the textured walls, with their folds and edges, would be challenging for a mural. But the folds reminded her of the paper origami cranes she would make with patients in recreation therapy. So, incorporating the folds into the work, she designed a mural with brightly colored cranes flying over a landscape of blue, green and orange mountain peaks.

As it turns out, others also thought her idea was innovative and creative. The project was so engaging that it recently won an international competition called the Collaboration of Design + Art Awards (CoD+A Awards) for work in a public space. There were 433 entries submitted from more than 29 countries. A prestigious panel of judges narrowed the contestants down to 100 and then opened the competition to voting from the public where only 8 winners were selected.

[raw] Griffin wanted to make sure the residents at the health clinic participated in the making of the mural, so she included them in priming for painting, painting and touching up the areas all with the supervision of their recreation therapists. The two outdoor courtyards each measure more than 4,000 square feet.

“As the artist, I would stay near the patients, encouraging them and reinforcing their contribution to the mural’s overall success,” said Griffin, describing the process. “As more color was put down and the patients’ excitement grew, we saw doctors, psychiatrists and nursing students come out to help paint and be part of the mural’s process. The transformation of the courtyards brought on a positive reaction in both the patients and the staff long before the murals completion.”

The mural project, which was funded as part of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town “Project Willowbrook: Cultivating a Healthy Community through Arts and Culture,” is part of an ongoing effort to bring more civic artwork to Willowbrook, a small community between Athens and Rancho Dominguez near Compton. Project Willowbrook, is also part of a broader investment in the community, in particular with the construction and completion of the new MLK Jr. Hospital and Outpatient Center as well as the upcoming renovation of the Rosa Parks Metro station.

Griffin, a Los Angeles-based artist, has focused much of her work on environmental sustainability including an installation, Rooted which is a series of glass panel at East Rancho Dominguez Library comprised of collaged layers of photographs of neighborhood trees, historic maps showing East Rancho Dominguez and how it grew over time and children’s library books.
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Supervisors Ask State to Stiffen Penalties for Adults Soliciting Sex from Children

As part of an ongoing effort against sex trafficking of children, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has called on state legislators to dramatically stiffen penalties for adults convicted of soliciting and having sex with children. Acting on a motion sponsored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe, the board asked the state to substantially raise fines so that California becomes the most expensive state in the nation in which to be convicted of soliciting sex from children. The same motion also calls for improved services and treatment for the victims.

Several speakers addressed the board about the ongoing problem of child sex trafficking and the challenges of cracking down on so-called “Johns,” including District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, Compton Mayor Aja Brown, the head of the LA County Probation Department’s sex trafficking unit Michelle Guymon as well as a survivor, Jessica Midkiff. Midkiff said she was groomed for work on the streets at age 11 and escaped shortly before turning 21.

“This motion represents a change in our view as to who are the true victims of these crimes and who are the true criminals,” said Lacey. “This motion addresses the market. That “John” who is out there trolling for a child should be treated more harshly by the system. If you are out there specifically looking for sex with a child you should not be treated as if you’re out there looking for sex with an adult.”

Chairman Ridley-Thomas announced that California State Senator Darrell Steinberg, Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell and Assemblyman Ted Lieu have indicated their support for a state bill addressing the demand side of child sex trafficking. In addition, in accordance with a request from the Los Angeles District Attorney, the motion asks that the law be amended so that not knowing a victim’s age cannot be used as a legal defense.

“When adults engage in sexual acts with children it should be called what it is: statutory rape,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “These are children, and children cannot consent. There have been strong efforts to appropriately punish sex traffickers, and there are efforts afoot to provide more services and treatment to the victims – mostly girls. But what’s missing from this equation are efforts to halt the demand for these children and meaningful consequences for their predators; that’s what we’re doing today.”

Supervisor Knabe said: “We have a good opportunity now, as the new legislative season in Sacramento is gearing up, to continue to promote awareness of this horrific crime and develop effective legislation to help the victims and go after the scumbags who purchase and sell girls for sex,” he said. “We must address the “demand” side of this crime and make the penalties severe enough so that these “Johns” don’t continue to be nameless and free of any criminal record, while the girls are criminalized. No 12-year-old little girl is choosing this life and we must do everything we can to protect them.”

Every day, children – primarily girls – as young as 10 years-old are being coerced and sold into prostitution in Los Angeles County and in counties throughout the state. According to experts in the field, the average life expectancy of these children once they enter the sex trade is seven years, due to the ravages of HIV/AIDS and the violence to which they are regularly subjected. At the low end, a victim could make $3,500 a week while some victims earn as much as $1,000 a day, making child sex trafficking a highly lucrative business increasingly run by gangs.

“Like narcotics, we’re seeing the proliferation of sex trafficking being put forth by the gangs. We’re seeing girls as young as nine or 10,” said McDonnell. “The pimps set the minimum for them to make, they stay out there until they do or they’re beaten.”

The men who solicit sex from children, however, often are not arrested and prosecuted, and even when they are, typically face only a proverbial slap on the wrist. The motion, asks lawmakers to amend the state penal code to make soliciting sex with a minor a felony. It also requires the “customers” to register as sex offenders and increases the fine from $1,000 to $10,000. It calls on law enforcement to refocus its priorities and actively arrest and prosecute these predators.

“The buyers of sex can be anyone,” said Guymon. “They are professionals, tourists, the diversity of buyers allows them to blend into our communities. The majority are men, usually they are married, hold a good job and have an average to high IQ.” Evidence suggests that predators are seeking to have sex with younger girls who are perceived to be both healthier and more vulnerable.

Helping the survivors and changing the perception of young girls who are trafficked is essential, said Midkiff.

“For every teenage girl there were 20 adult customers per night who were purchasing her. This equals up to 140 customers per week for one single girl,” she said. “As long as sex buyers are prowling the streets and lurking in the internet demanding sex without any perceived consequences, we will not curtail this problem.”