Making Urgent Investments in LA County’s Homeless Crisis Response

MVB_9275aWith winter approaching, Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Michael Antonovich urged the Board of Supervisors to consider next week investing $15 million on programs to rapidly rehouse the homeless and prevent families and individuals from becoming homeless.

The money would come out of Los Angeles County’s Homeless Prevention Initiative (HPI) fund, which started with $50 million at the beginning of this fiscal year and gained another $51 million last week.

“With the harsh winter months approaching, it is imperative that the County initiate investments in known (budget) gaps immediately, in order to respond to the crisis at hand,” Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Antonovich said in a motion introduced during Tuesday’s Board meeting.

The motion will be added to the agenda of the Board’s next meeting on October 13, so the public will have at least a week to review it before a vote is taken.

image2In Los Angeles County, an estimated 44,000 men, women and children are homeless on any given night, sleeping on the streets or in vehicles, shelters and transitional housing programs. That’s 12 percent more than in 2013 – a dynamic and deepening crisis.

The Board is still weighing how to allocate the $51 million newly added to the Homeless Prevention Initiative fund. Throughout October and November, the County is holding 18 summits among public and private stakeholders to develop a comprehensive strategy for addressing the homeless crisis, and a report is due in February. Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Antonovich, however, believe the Board has a moral responsibility to act sooner rather than later to invest in proven intervention practices and fill known budget gaps in existing crisis response systems for the homeless. For instance, a major source of funds for the rapid rehousing of homeless families with kids under age 6 will be exhausted in March.

Both Supervisors also expressed alarm over money running low for programs intended to prevent families from becoming homeless in the first place; to allow individuals and families who are already in permanent housing to continue receiving supportive services; and to rapidly rehouse homeless single adults who are not military veterans.

In their motion, they sought to set aside:

  • $10 million for rapid rehousing of single adults who are not chronically homeless;
  • $3 million for rapid rehousing of homeless families with children;
  • $2 million to provide assistance to families on the brink of homelessness so that they can get back on their feet and not end up on the streets.

The motion also called for identifying continuous federal, state and other funds that could be used to pay for ongoing services in permanent supportive housing projects.

“The recommendations build on existing initiatives and priorities that were previously approved by the Board,” Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Antonovich said in their motion. “These strategies have been proven to prevent and end homelessness and would allow the County to make a more immediate and substantive impact in areas with the highest need, while the interim CEO completes the strategic planning process to address these issues.”

A Symbol of Hope on Skid Row

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 3.41.28 PMRamping up desperately needed services for the homeless in Skid Row, the Los Angeles County Downtown Mental Health Center has reopened after a $10-million renovation.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas cut the ceremonial ribbon at the entrance to 529 S. Maple Street, flanked by Supervisor Hilda Solis, Sheriff Jim McDonnell, District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Department of Mental Health (DMH) director Marvin Southard.

“I am morally outraged that 2,000 persons sleep on the streets of Skid Row every night,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “This new facility will connect residents of Skid Row as well as the rest of downtown Los Angeles to a continuum of psychiatric services.”


Inside the newly redesigned Downtown Mental Health Center

He called it a “symbol of hope” that will serve as a
“critical access point for comprehensive, holistic and customized services to both the homeless and the formerly homeless who need continued assistance.”

Supervisor Solis issued a rallying cry — “Sigue Adelante!” — which translates into “Let’s keep moving forward.”

The Board of Supervisors approved the renovation after DMH cited overcrowding and structural problems in the original clinic, which began operating in 2001. Funding came from the Mental Health Services Act, a ballot initiative approved by California voters in 2004, which imposed a 1% tax on millionaires to pay for programs that would improve the public mental health system.

District Attorney Lacey said the project was a way of “helping those who cannot help themselves,” while Sheriff McDonnell emphasized the general public stood to benefit more from providing services to the mentally ill than locking them up in jail.


A homeless encampment in Skid Row

“Let’s chart a new path and be a model for the rest of the nation,” Sheriff McDonnell said.

The renovation will allow the DMH to provide services to about 3,300 patients on site at any given time, while connecting thousands of other patients to several specialized DMH programs in the vicinity, creating a network of critical mental health services.

“This new facility should be seen as the next step in the County’s total commitment for finding the combination of housing, addiction, mental health and other services that aim at ending the scandal that is Skid Row,” added Director Southard.

“As a homeless person journeys towards recovery, it is essential that he or she have meaningful and timely connections to ongoing mental health and substance abuse services,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “This Center will act as a linchpin, connecting folks who are on the streets of Skid Row or in the Missions to crisis resolution services, and then wellness services, as they recover.”

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Slauson Revitalization

_DFB2789Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas provided a progress report on the ongoing Slauson Corridor Revitalization Project during a community meeting this month, drawing enthusiastic responses from residents and business owners in View Park, Windsor Hills and Ladera Heights.

“Revitalization does not come quickly, but we are well on our way,” he told a crowd of about 200 at Knox Presbyterian Church.

“No one can stop me from waging war on blight,” he added. “The commercial corridors of this community have not reflected residents’ expectations for far too long.”

The $28-million initiative is aimed at improving residents’ quality of life while giving businesses an economic boost. The County is investing:
  • $650,000 to give 20 local businesses on both the north and south sides of Slauson Avenue between Angeles Vista and La Brea a facelift by renovating their decades-old storefront facades;
  • $8.5 million to improve 1.3 miles of streetscape on Slauson Avenue between Angeles Vista and La Brea, as well as an adjacent segment of Overhill Drive between Slauson Avenue and Stocker Ave;
  • $18.9 million for four major park improvements.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the progress to date, and find comfort that the vision for additional phases remain intact,” said View Park resident Pernell Cox. “With demonstrated progress, momentum, and a concerted effort from private and County stakeholders, I am more confident that we, residents, will be able to experience a much improved Slauson Corridor in the very near future.”

“The revitalization plan laid out by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas were impressive and exciting,” added fellow View Park resident Ben Kahle. “My family and I look forward to the beautification and developments along Slauson and Overhill, as well as to patronizing the new businesses on the corridor.”

To date, 10 storefront facades on the south side of Slauson Avenue between Angeles Vista Boulevard and La Brea Avenue have been upgraded at an average cost of about $20,000 per business.

Bonnie B’s, Glamour Girl, CJ’s Elegance were among the establishments that received a fresh coat of paint, as well as new display windows, signage, awnings and lighting.

Percell Keeling, owner of Simply Wholesome, said, “We are pleased with the progress of the improvements and look forward to future developments.”

The changes are already having a positive effect on the community. “We’ve heard from the Sheriff’s Department that crime is down, and that business is good,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

Another 10 facades, this time on the north side of Slauson Avenue from Angeles Vista to Overhill Drive, will be renovated this fall through spring 2016. Sights are also set on working with property owners to renovate the Windsor Hills Shopping Center Parking Lot, just north of the street.

Due to begin construction in Spring 2016 are streetscape improvements on Slauson Avenue that will make it much more pleasant for patrons to walk, bike and shop along the corridor. Specific improvements include road resurfacing; bike lanes; new trees, lighting, benches and trash receptacles; decorative crosswalks; and drought-tolerant landscaping on medians.

Once those are completed, construction will begin on similar streetscape improvements on Overhill Drive, with completion expected sometime in summer 2018.

_DFB2754Meanwhile, work is underway on the Stocker Park and Hahn Park segments of the 13.2-mile Park to Playa Trail that will connect the greater Baldwin Hills to the Pacific Ocean. A trailhead will soon open at Stocker Avenue, along with a connection to Rueben Ingold Park.

Scheduled to begin soon are renovations to the Kenneth Hahn Community and Interpretive Center, which the public can enjoy by spring 2016. In October, construction will also begin on Stoneview Nature Center in Blair Hills – which will have native gardens, a community kitchen, and many other unique amenities that are new to the Second District.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas thanked the community for embracing the goals of the project. “Interest in seeing change does not translate into unanimous consensus on how things should get done but, regardless, we have found a way to move forward.”