Robust Support System and Millions in Housing for Veterans

(Left to Right) LA County Veterans’ Advisory Commissioner and Army Veteran Dennis Tucker, Marine Veteran and Formerly Homeless Advocate Wendell Blassingame, LA County Community Development Commission Executive Director Monique King-Viehland, Soldiers Project Executive Director and Marine Veteran Michael McDowell, Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center Executive Director and Marine Veteran Tess Banko, Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative Co-Chair and Vietnam War Veteran Tony Hicks, and LA County Department of Mental Health Director Jonathan Sherin. All photos by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Kathryn Barger to create a countywide support network that will enable veterans to help fellow veterans, and allocate $20 million to provide housing for veterans experiencing mental health issues and housing challenges in Los Angeles County.

“It is fitting that we are taking action on the Countywide Veteran Peer Access Network on the day after Memorial Day,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “We can never repay our brave men and women for their service to our country, but the least we can do is make sure they have the support they need to lead lives of dignity and purpose.”

LA County Community Development Commission Executive Director Monique King-Viehland testifies before the Board of Supervisors.

“This action establishes a network which enables our veterans to help fellow veterans access vital resources, including mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and housing,” Supervisor Barger said. “Meaningful peer-to-peer interaction and engagement, paired with supportive services and housing tailored for veterans’ needs, will result in improved outcomes for those who have served.”

The motion calls for creating the Countywide Veteran Peer Access Network by expanding the number of veteran peers employed by the County, as well as nonprofit organizations contracted by the County to serve veterans. It also incorporates $5 million to immediately facilitate access to existing housing stock through the Countywide Veteran Peer Access Network, and an additional $15 million to create new affordable and permanent supportive housing units for veterans experiencing homelessness.

 Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative Co-Chair and Vietnam War Veteran Tony Hicks and UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center Executive Director and Marine Veteran Tess Banko testify before the Board of Supervisors.

Tess Banko, a Marine Corps veteran whose husband tragically committed suicide while on active duty, testified, “This motion will not only serve to tighten the fabric of community in ways that are vital for veterans like me and their families, aiding in prevention and overall health, but it will also create a portal for direct access to coordinated services that can help those in need quickly and easily access assistance when it is most needed.”

“(The motion) not only touches my heart, but it touches every homeless veteran in Los Angeles County,” said Wendell Blassingame, a former Marine Corps veteran who used to be homeless but is now residing in a supportive housing unit provided by the County.

Last year’s Homeless Count found almost 5,000 homeless veterans countywide on any given night.

Creating a New Generation of Metro Riders and Workers

Rendering of proposed development for the Vermont Manchester site (Killefer Flammang Architects).

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors approved initiatives that would create a new generation of public transit workers and riders, and help homeless individuals staying in buses, trains and stations secure housing and services.

“It is important to ensure that our youth are deriving all of the benefits of Metro’s growing public transit system, whether as passengers or as future members of its workforce,” said Board Member and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the initiatives.

The Board gave Metro the green light to partner with the County on developing a college-preparatory boarding academy as part of the County-driven project at the intersection of Vermont Avenue and Manchester Boulevard in South LA. Other components of the project include 180 units of affordable housing, 50,000 square feet of retail, and various transit amenities.

In his report to the Board, Metro CEO Phil Washington said the school would “specialize in inspiring and training youth to pursue careers in the transportation and infrastructure sectors,” particularly youth in the County’s safety net and others who have been educationally underserved. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said, “We want to put these students on a path to career fulfillment by building a school with state-of-the-art technology, support services and unparalleled connections with the transportation industry.”

Students boarding Metro at Cal State LA Station

The Board also approved making the Universal College Student Transit Pass (U-Pass) program permanent and available to undergrads currently enrolled in credit or noncredit courses.  Since Metro launched U-Pass as a pilot 21 months ago, based on a motion by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, the program has seen a 50 percent increase in students signing up for transit passes and $4 million in additional revenue.

“With the U-Pass program, students have access to safe, efficient and affordable transportation, and Metro has a great opportunity to grow ridership,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

Metro works with universities and community colleges to encourage sign-ups through the academic registration process. Among those participating in the U-Pass program are Cal Tech, CSULA, CSUN, Compton College, El Camino College, LA City College, LA Trade Tech College, LMU, Mission College, Pasadena City College, Pierce College, Rio Hondo College, and USC (graduate students). UCLA is poised to join the list in July 2018.

A member of Metro’s homeless outreach team offers help to a man near a bus stop.

Another action taken by the Board was to quadruple the number of outreach teams helping homeless individuals aboard Metro’s buses and trains, and in and around its transit stations. It approved $4 million to fund those teams over the next fiscal year.

Under a pilot program launched by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, two outreach teams started operating on the Red Line in May 2017. In their first 10 months of operation, they engaged 1,539 individuals and linked 208 of them to interim housing resources. They also linked 237 individuals to permanent housing resources, and helped 19 to become permanently housed.

Seeing their success, the Board voted to increase the number of outreach teams from two to eight, operating seven days a week on Metro’s rail and bus system, as well as at Union Station. Each outreach team is composed of a nurse, a substance abuse counselor, a mental health clinician, an outreach worker, and a formerly homeless individual.

Metro CEO Phil Washingon and Supervisor and Metro Board member Mark Ridley-Thomas flank members of Metro’s homeless outreach teams.

$453 Million Vermont Corridor Transformation Moves Forward

Rendering by Gensler of 468,000-sq. ft. office tower that will be developed by the Trammell Crow Company to serve as the Vermont Corridor Administration Building.

The Board of Supervisors approved the $453-million Vermont Corridor Project that includes building new headquarters for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health; up to 4,100 sq. ft. of retail space topped with market-rate apartments; and up to 72 units of affordable housing for seniors, plus a community recreation center.

The Project spans three sites on and around South Vermont Avenue, between Fourth and Sixth Streets. It is expected to create 1,400 construction jobs and hundreds more permanent jobs.

“This is an innovative approach,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who championed the transformation of the aging and dilapidated County-owned buildings that currently occupy the three sites. “We are creating jobs while positively transforming once-neglected blight into modern and robust assets.”

The County plans to build a state-of-the-art 21-story, 468,000-sq. ft. office tower to be dubbed the Vermont Corridor County Administration building at 510, 526 and 532 S. Vermont Avenue, with a parking structure on 523 Shatto Place. The office tower will house both the Mental Health department and Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services. The new building will improve working conditions for County employees and allow the department to improve service delivery, from prevention to recovery. Its ground floor will include a peer resource center where people in recovery can be among those assisting the department’s clients, and a retail social enterprise that can provide clients with employment opportunities.

“This is a symbol of cutting edge and inclusive ways of delivering services in the County,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

Next door, the existing County building on 550 S. Vermont Avenue and 3175 West Sixth Street will be converted into a mixed-use development. It will have up to 4,100-sq ft. of retail and commercial space on the ground floor, and up to 172 market-rate apartments on the upper floors.

Greg Ames, managing director of the Trammell Crow Company, which will develop both sites, said, “We are truly excited about our partnership with the County on this project and look forward to bringing first class, sustainable office space to the County and its employees, and much needed housing, affordable housing and community space to our neighbors on the Vermont Corridor.”

The third site, on 433 S. Vermont Street, is envisioned to have 72 affordable housing units for seniors, to be developed by Meta Housing. It will also include a street-level community center and ample open space.

The Vermont Corridor is a bustling socioeconomically and culturally diverse neighborhood that includes bus and subway stations; retail and service establishments; markets; restaurants; schools; and the Korean American National Museum and Islamic Center of Southern California.

Clearing the Way for New Development at Vermont and Manchester

Rendering of the proposed development at the corner of Vermont Avenue and Manchester Boulevard (Killefer Flammang Architects).

Los Angeles County crews demolished the last remaining structure at the corner of Vermont Avenue and Manchester Boulevard to make way for new development projects on a site that sustained extensive damage in the 1992 Civil Unrest and remained mostly vacant ever since.

“We are sweeping away the vestiges of the past and creating a promising future at Vermont and Manchester,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said.

After a Superior Court judge approved its use of eminent domain, the County took possession of the four-acre property on May 7th and began the process of developing one of the largest tracts of vacant land in South LA to benefit the surrounding community.

On May 21st, the County started to demolish the burnt hulk of a building that used to be shopping center. Once that is completed, crews will clear weeds on the lot, and install new fencing around the property.

The County’s next step is to encourage robust community engagement in conceptualizing interim uses for the site, as well as the development projects.

In partnership with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the County is looking to build the first boarding academy in the state that will focus on preparing youth for careers in the transportation sector. It also has plans for 180 units of affordable housing, as well as 50,000 sq. ft. of retail and various transit-related amenities.

The County sued in December to condemn the property on the east side of the 8400 and 8500 blocks of South Vermont Avenue from longtime owner Eli Sasson. In his ruling, issued April 26th, LA Superior Court Judge Daniel Murphy wrote, “The Court finds that (the County’s) needs override any hardship suffered by (Sasson).” He added, “(Sasson) will not lose rents and (Sasson has) sat idly on the project without development for years.”

By law, the property owner will receive fair and just compensation for his land.

LA County Makes $402M Investment in Fight Against Homelessness

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors — Kathryn Barger, Hilda Solis, Sheila Kuehl, Janice Hahn and Mark Ridley-Thomas — with County CEO Sachi Hamai at a press conference to update the public on the significant progress that has been made in the fight against homelessness. All photos by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors.

Year 2 Measure H spending plan funds expansion of housing and outreach

Building on an array of promising successes, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $402-million spending plan for 2018-2019 to widen and intensify its fight against homelessness.

The five-member Board unanimously adopted dozens of recommendations for the second-year budget of Measure H, the voter-approved quarter-cent sales tax dedicated exclusively to providing services and programs to combat the homelessness crisis.

Jamal Dunn, a resident of the Fiesta apartments in the San Fernando Valley, credits Measure H with helping him out of homelessness.

The newly adopted budget targets a number of critical strategies in the County’s comprehensive Homeless Action Plan. It includes $120 million for shelter and interim housing, $73 million for rapid rehousing, $49 million for permanent supportive housing, and $30 million for outreach.

The plan expands on spending priorities adopted by the supervisors for Measure H’s first year, but provides greater flexibility to meet emerging challenges and trends, such as the growing number of encampments throughout the county.

“Today’s vote was an important milestone in continuing the difficult and essential work of bringing help and hope to our homeless neighbors,” said Board Chair Sheila Kuehl. “The Measure H spending plan approved today by the Board builds on proven strategies and puts resources where they’re needed most.

“As we enter the second year of this unprecedented effort,” she added, “it’s encouraging to see this collaborative process going forward in ways that are literally saving lives.”

Supervisor Hilda L. Solis said the new Measure H spending plan offers hope for the “tens of thousands of Angelenos who live on the streets, in their cars, or in the homes of friends or family.”

“Today’s passage of Measure H funding expands our effort to make a positive impact in the lives of many of our homeless friends and neighbors,” Solis said. “We will continue to do everything in our power to address the homelessness crisis through collaboration and innovative solutions that help lift up our most vulnerable residents.”

The Board of Supervisors stand together in front of a sculpture of a massive door that is the logo of the “Everyone In” campaign aimed at engaging the public in the fight against homelessnes

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas emphasized the importance of prevention and support.

“Thanks to Measure H, we are expanding and recharging our crisis response to homelessness while, at the same time, funding programs to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place,” he said. “Measure H is funding everything you need to move people into housing, and all that it takes to make sure they stay in housing and thrive.

“We must work together,” he said, “to make sure every person who calls L.A. County home is able to live a life of dignity and purpose.”

Supervisor Janice Hahn praised the County’s progress since voters passed Measure H but cautioned that “we recognize we have a long way to go.”

“We are building new partnerships, we are adapting to new problems, and we are doubling down in our groundbreaking efforts to get people off of the streets and into housing,” Hahn said.

Added Supervisor Kathryn Barger: “We are seeing despair transition to hope. From housing to mental health care, I look forward to continuing our efforts to address every facet of the homelessness crisis.”

Supervisors hold a joint press conference at the Hall of Administration.

Measure H was passed by voters in March 2017, with services beginning the following July. In the nine months between then and March 2018, thousands of individuals and families have been helped.

The County is on track to meet the initial five-year goal of Measure H—to provide permanent housing for 45,000 families and individuals, while preventing an additional 30,000 from falling into homelessness.

Among the most important successes so far:

  • 10,330 people entered crisis, bridge and interim housing funded in whole or in part by Measure H.
  • 5,239 homeless families and individuals secured permanent housing due specifically to funding from Measure H.
  • 2,195 clients were linked to new Intensive Case Management Services slots for permanent supportive housing, 1,108 clients received federal rental subsidies and 808 clients received local rental subsidies.
  • The L.A. County Housing Authority provided $880,686 in incentives to landlords to help secure 403 housing units for disabled homeless adults/families with a federal rental subsidy.
  • In growing numbers, multidisciplinary outreach teams have worked across the County to address the immediate needs of homeless residents and link them to programs and services.
  • Countywide Benefits Entitlement Services Teams helped 5,703 disabled individuals with applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Veterans Disability Benefits.
  • Homeless service providers added more than 1,000 new jobs across the region to bolster the delivery system. The County is supporting this rapid expansion through an online hub linking job seekers to non-profits at JobsCombattingHomelessness.org.
  • For more information on the county’s Homeless Initiative and Measure H, please visit homeless.lacounty.gov.