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.”

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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.

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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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Serving Seniors in Compton

DJA_0012What used to be a vacant lot in Compton has been transformed into desperately needed affordable housing for seniors, demonstrating the type of initiative necessary to alleviate the crisis of homelessness in Los Angeles County.

Costing $20.3-million in public and private funds, Metro @ Compton Senior Apartments recently opened 75 units for low and very low-income seniors ages 55 and older.

Rent is $430-$750 for a one-bedroom unit and $515-$900 for a two-bedroom unit at 302 N. Tamarind Ave, conveniently located next to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Blue Line.

“Metro @ Compton is the gold standard,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who chairs the Metro Board of Directors. “It’s transit-oriented, sustainably built, uplifts the community and makes a great home.”

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Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with Meta Housing President Kasey Burke

Amid studies showing more than 44,000 people are homeless in the County on any given night, and more 1.1 million seniors throughout California are living in poverty, the County’s Community Development Commission invested more than $2.5 million towards Metro @ Compton.

Meta Housing Corporation, Western Community Housing Optimus Construction, YM Architects and KKG Inc. comprised the development team for the 61,000 sq. ft. project, which includes a large community room and an outdoor living room with a fountain, barbecue and gym.

Being across the street from Dollarhide Community Center allows seniors to sign up for classes, assistance, and opportunities for socializing, enabling them to stay active and independent. Metro @ Compton is also within walking distance of the Martin Luther King, Jr.  Transit Center, as well as a park, grocery, bank, restaurants and shopping center.

CDC Executive Director Sean Rogan said residential and retail developments anchored around public transit are “particularly important for seniors whose independence may be affected due to limited mobility.”

On assuming the chairmanship at Metro in July, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas emphasized that public transit should be seen as a vehicle for economic development. He endorsed projects that “meet a triple bottom line: putting people to work, greening the environment, and getting people where they need to go.”

Aside from providing affordable housing to seniors, Metro @ Compton created about 160 construction jobs. Designed sustainably, it uses solar power and a photovoltaic system to capture sunlight for heating water and generating electricity, and recycles water from resident’s washing machines to irrigate the landscaping.

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Seniors and their families “raising the roof” at the grand opening of Metro @ Compton

Affordable Housing Reimagined

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SCI-Arc students turning their architectural sketches into reality

With hard hats and hammers, dozens of volunteers gathered in south Los Angeles Thursday to kick off construction on a home that’s not only inexpensive but innovative.

“This is the result of an unprecedented collaboration among the public, private, philanthropic and academic sectors,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “Together, we are easing Los Angeles County’s homeless crisis and creating a prototype for affordable housing in the future.”

IMG_0113Once completed in October, the 1,150-sq. ft. home will include three bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, energy-efficient heating, low-flow plumbing, insulation with recycled materials, and a drought-tolerant yard.

The home sits on a 4,410-square foot lot at 1232 W. 101st Street in Athens donated by Los Angeles County to Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles.

Habitat, a nonprofit organization championed by former President Jimmy Carter, builds and renovates houses, often with volunteer labor, and arranges reasonable mortgages for low-income individuals and families.

To design the home in Athens, Habitat tapped the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), whose students developed blueprints during the fall 2014 semester, secured permits during the spring 2015 semester, and are participating in the construction phase this summer.

Habitat also partnered with General Motors Foundation and Bernards Builders and Management Services for volunteer labor and donated furniture. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ office donated $95,000 toward the project, which also received funding from Habitat, SCI-Arc, and other donors.

“This project has given us the opportunity to collaborate with new and longtime partners on driving forward the standards for sustainable and cost-effective housing,” Habitat LA President and CEO Erin Rank said. “Innovation is key in building a greater Los Angeles, one project and neighborhood at a time.”

SCI-Arc Director Eric Owen Moss said the cost-effective single family home is a new area of interest for SCI-Arc. “There have been a number of such efforts over the years, typically skewed in the low cost rather than the imaginative design direction,” he said. “It’s time SCI-Arc turned its attention to the solution for both.”

IMG_0108The design chosen for the home was dubbed IVRV, short for Inverse Reverse, because it blurred the relationship between indoor and outdoor areas.

Habitat will sell the home for no more than $419,000, an amount set by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Habitat will work through its established home ownership program to find a veteran homeowner. Five potential buyers are already in the queue.

More projects are in the works. “We look forward to future groundbreakings on the dozen other properties in the Second District that have been donated to Habitat for Humanity for high quality affordable housing,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.


Finding Home and Health in South LA

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John Flores suffered from mental health issues all his life, and often felt alone and isolated from his family. After spending several years in prison, he was released… only to become homeless. But he turned his life around after finding the South Los Angeles Recuperative Care Center in East Rancho Dominguez,  where a team of nurses and case managers took care of him and helped him find affordable housing as well as mental health services.

18682407262_85a83523b6_z (1)“When I got out, I fell into homelessness and what comes with it,” Flores said. “Not only has this center been a place to call home, but the staff nursed me back from my injuries.”

“These are the people who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” he added.

The center is the result of an innovative partnership between Lamp Community, a homeless service organization, and the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services’ ground-breaking Housing for Health Division, which seeks to help homeless patients find both permanent housing and the healthcare they need.

Renovated by the Community Development Commission with funding support of $1.8 million from Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the center offers a healing environment for homeless people to recuperate after they are discharged from a hospital, which breaks the cycle of costly hospital stays, frees up hospital beds for patients in critical needand leads to healthier outcomes for homeless patients.

18682414012_04c95d3dbc_z (1)“By providing these much needed services, homeless individuals will be able to receive the care they need,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “It is essential that all residents of our county, regardless of whether they are homeless, receive these medical and supportive services to help them find a new path. Lamp Community is doing tremendous work in helping to bring humane and sustainable medical care for all people.”

The center’s opening comes on the heels of a recent report by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority that found a 12 percent increase in homelessness over the past two years across Los Angeles County, where more than 44,000 people are homeless on any given night.

The South Los Angeles Recuperative Care Center is the first of many that will soon be available to serve homeless patients suffering from health issues. In the fall, a new recuperative care center will open at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus to bring housing options for homeless individuals being discharged from the hospital with no place to go.

Mr. Flores told an audience during a recent dedication ceremony that his stay at the center was transformative. “This was the first time I felt love in 20 years,” he said. “Your efforts here at Lamp are not wasted.”