Board Approves Homeless Initiative

From hopelessness to hope—four stories from Los Angeles County Annual Report on Vimeo.

In a historic vote, the Board of Supervisors approved the most comprehensive, collaborative and far-reaching action plan ever to be undertaken to address the crisis of homelessness in Los Angeles County.

With more than 44,000 men, women and children living on the streets or in temporary shelters on any given night, the County Homeless Initiative laid out 47 strategies that aim to:

  • Prevent homelessness
  • Subsidize housing costs
  • Increase income
  • Provide case management and services
  • Create a coordinated system
  • Increase affordable housing.

IMG_1883A motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, also approved by the Board, underscored the need to allocate funding on the basis of need. About a third of the County’s homeless population live in the Second District.

“This motion reaffirms Board policy for the last three years that homeless investments should be needs-based,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

“The gravity of the crisis is profound and if we fail to act now, the problem will be compounded,” he added. “Urgency has to be the mantra of the day.”

IMG_1873The Board created the Homeless Initiative in August 2015 with a mandate to produce a set of strategies that would not only provide the homeless with housing and other services, but also prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. It convened 18 meetings, or policy summits, involving scores of experts, public and private stakeholders and community partners throughout the 88 cities that make up the County.

“It is imperative that we continue to have leadership at the helm, with the full backing of the County, steering us towards our ultimate goal: a community where homelessness is rare and brief,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Now we must turn our attention to how we sustain our efforts – through ongoing revenue streams – in the fight against homelessness.” Click here for full text of his remarks.

IMG_1836About a dozen of the Homeless Initiative strategies are to be implemented by June 30, or Phase 1, including enhancing the emergency shelter system and expanding rapid-rehousing programs.

Implementation of Phase 2 is to begin in the second half of 2016, while Phase 3 will kick off in 2017.

Aside from stressing that funding should be needs-based, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ motion sought to strength partnerships with faith organizations wanting to help the homeless, accelerate the development of affordable and permanent supportive housing by using prefab construction techniques; and other recommendations. image2

Transforming Tiki Apartments

IMG_1753What used to be a seedy motel in Walnut Park is being transformed into an $11.6-million permanent supportive housing community for homeless adults with special needs.

At the groundbreaking ceremony for Tiki Apartments, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas declared, “It brings me great joy to bear witness to the transformation of this site into state-of-the-art affordable housing.”

IMG_1758“I can think of no better use for this property as I believe there is no more critical, urgent or moral issue that requires our collective attention than the homeless crisis,” he added.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ office set aside $500,000 of Los Angeles County’s Homeless Prevention Initiative funds for the project being built on the site of the former Tiki Motel, which appeared in the blockbuster movie The Terminator.

Once construction is completed in December, Tiki Apartments will have 35 affordable rental units for homeless adults with special needs who had been heavily dependent on medical care provided by the County Department of Health Services (DHS).

As tenants, they would be eligible for supportive services that should help them attain greater levels of stability, independence and economic security. This includes case management, mental health care, primary and preventive health care, substance abuse treatment, and financial and life skills training.

IMG_1759The development will also include amenities such as a courtyard, outdoor fitness area, on-site laundry and gardening plots, all intended to promote wellness, self-sufficiency and community.

It is Meta Housing Corp.’s eighth project in the Second District, with four additional deals pending.

“With the support of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and the County’s Community Development Commission and DHS, we are going to create 35 new units at Tiki Apartments that will move people off of the streets and into permanent supportive housing,” Meta Housing project manager Brian “Ross” Ferrera said. “This is a much more efficient use of County resources, as it would permanently house these residents in safe and comfortable housing and stop the cycle of going in and out of emergency rooms and temporary shelters.”

Meta Housing President Kasey Burke added, “The need for permanent supportive housing is greater than ever and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and the County of Los Angeles are showing tremendous leadership to help tackle this problem and provide the necessary resources to house our most needy population.”

John Stewart Company has been tapped to manage Tiki Apartments, while DHS will partner with the nonprofit Western Community Housing, Inc. to provide supportive services.

Also present at the groundbreaking ceremony were Community Development Commission Executive Director Sean Rogan, DHS’s Housing for Health Program Director Marc Trotz and Western Community Housing, Inc. President Graham Espley-Jones.

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Venturing into Skid Row for the Homeless Count

Vowing to address what he called the “defining civil rights issue of our time,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas ventured into Skid Row on the final night of the 2016 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count to help estimate the number of people living on the streets or in temporary shelters.

“We are faced with a homeless crisis that is the product of decades of structural deficits in affordable housing, employment and community investment,” he said in a press conference at the Los Angeles Mission before canvassing a three-block neighborhood dotted with makeshift tents. “We can’t give up on this fight – we can’t and we won’t.”

During this year’s Count, more than 7,500 volunteers canvassed almost 2,000 census tracts spanning about 95 percent of Los Angeles County over two nights and a day. Conducted by the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), it is the most exhaustive survey of the local homeless population – second only to the US Census in size and scope.

The Count provides an estimate of the number of people staying in emergency shelters and transitional housing, as well as those living in places not meant for human habitation, such as vehicles, parks, sidewalks and abandoned buildings.  The data is used to develop a better understanding of the demographics and needs of the homeless population, and to secure funding that would help them secure permanent housing and support services.

“It’s the human spirit inside of us that says, ‘Let’s help our brothers and sisters out,'” said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who also volunteered for the Count along with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson.

Last year’s Count estimated the homeless population countywide at 41,174 – a 12 percent increase from 2013. Skid Row alone accounts for almost 4,000, and 2,500 of them live within the boundaries of the Second District.

Altogether, one in three homeless persons throughout Los Angeles County can be found in the Second District.

“We must and we will confront this issue head-on if we are to make any inroads,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “I am morally outraged by the statistics – that is why I feel such a sense of urgency.”

He has taken a three-pronged approach to addressing homelessness:

  • Building strong and coordinated crisis response systems that are comprehensive, inclusive and evidence-informed
  • Creating affordable housing with, if necessary, supportive services such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, and job training and placement, in partnership with community-based organizations
  • Increasing access to income by raising wages and spurring economic development that creates jobs easily accessible through public transit

Last summer, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Solis to fund and create four outreach teams just for Skid Row. Composed of County health professionals, LAHSA outreach workers and formerly homeless persons, the teams try to connect the homeless to County-funded medical, mental health and substance use services and supportive housing.

The County is also funding rapid rehousing subsidies and services for homeless persons who can be connected to employment or other sources of income and become stable after a shorter period of assistance. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ office has also dedicated funds for homeless women on Skid Row, to ensure they are taken off the streets and out of harm’s way as quickly as possible, and into stable housing.

The County is in the midst of preparing a comprehensive plan for addressing the crisis of homelessness, and recently held public hearings to solicit community input.

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24th Empowerment Congress Summit Draws 1,300

About 1,300 people participated in a meaningful dialogue about Los Angeles County’s crisis of homelessness at the 24th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit, and vowed to work together — as a community — in search of solutions.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas described homelessness as one of the most profound issues of our time, pointing out an estimated 44,000 people live on the streets or in temporary shelters on any given night.

“One out of every three homeless persons lives in the Second  District — over 14,000 men, women and children,” he said. “The most vulnerable — those with mental or physical disabilities, drug or alcohol addiction, women without family support — are the hardest hit.”

The summit coincides with the national observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas recalled the legacy of the legendary civil rights leader.

“Dr. King’s words implore us not to harden our hearts in despair, cynicism and bitter resignation in the face of these challenges,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “He reminds us that it is our moral imperative to learn more about the homeless problem and to challenge ourselves to creatively respond and alter the systems causing homelessness in the first place.”

Actress Pauley Perrette, a longtime advocate for the homeless and star of the world’s highest-rated TV show, NCIS, also urged help for the homeless, saying we all “share a common humanity.” Although best known for playing the role of forensic scientist Abby Sciuto, she is also an ardent social and civil activist, involved in many charitable organizations.

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NCIS actress Pauley Perrette urges help for the homeless.

Founded in 1992 by then-Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Empowerment Congress is a national model of civic engagement and forerunner of the neighborhood council movement. It is a dynamic partnership among neighborhood groups, residents, nonprofit organizations, businesses, religious institutions and community leaders, built on the core principles of participatory democracy, reciprocal accountability, and intentional civility.

This year’s summit had the theme: Empowerment Matters: Building Stronger Communities. Speakers at the plenary session included California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon and Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson.

Other speakers included Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Songhai Armstead, A Community of Friends CEO Dora Gallo, architect Michael Maltzan, Marquez Community Strategy founder Mercedes Marquez, and civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Cecil Murray.

The plenary session was followed by workshops on such issues as preparing for El Niño, the relationship between law enforcement and young men of color, mass transit as a vehicle for economic development, and the state of social justice in Los Angeles.

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Celebrating Innovative Housing for the Homeless

15295253018_0130f1b7f6_z (1)Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas awarded a scroll recognizing an honor bestowed upon the Skid Row Housing Trust, whose Star Apartments project made it to TIME Magazine’s list of the 25 Best Inventions of 2015.

“Enhancing the pipeline of quality affordable housing for all residents, especially our most vulnerable, has become one of the most pressing issues of our time,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “The homeless crisis that exists in Los Angeles County requires a bold new vision and Star Apartments is a defining example of what can and must be done.”

TIME Magazine noted that most housing projects for the homeless tend to look like warehouses but that’s not the case with Star Apartments, designed by architect Michael Maltzan.

Completed in 2014 along a border of Skid Row, it features 102 prefabricated studios ingeniously stacked atop a medical clinic on the ground floor, as well as a Health and Wellness Center with a garden and outdoor running track on the second floor.

The Trust’s CEO Mike Alvidrez said Star Apartments represents “tremendous innovation happening in our own backyard.” He added, “We are happy to be able to effectuate solutions to homelessness right here in Los Angeles County to the admiration of the rest of the country.”

A nonprofit organization, the Trust is one of the largest providers of permanent supportive housing in Southern California, maintaining more than 1,800 units at 26 locations. It built Star Apartments with support from the public and private sectors, including $400,000 in funding from the Office of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

Star Apartments serves as the headquarters of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services’ Housing for Health program, which identifies frequent users of the public health system and puts them in permanent supportive housing. By putting a roof over their heads, and providing them with much-needed medical and psychiatric care, the program helps people avoid multiple costly trips to the E.R. and enables them to attain greater levels of stability, independence and economic security.

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