The Time for Action On
The Homeless Crisis is Now


Los Angeles County has reached a critical moment when political will, public support and resources are all within reach to finally put an end to the spiraling epidemic of mass homelessness.

Just a couple months after the Board of Supervisors approved a historic and comprehensive plan to address the crisis, a new L.A.County sponsored poll shows that voters would overwhelmingly approve a ballot initiative this fall to combat homelessness – even if it means taking money out of their own pockets to pay for it.

According to the survey, 68 percent of likely voters would support a sales tax increase to fund programs for the homeless. An even larger number, 76 percent, would back a tax increase on incomes exceeding $1 million.

Homelessness is the defining civic issue in the County of Los Angeles, and we need to confront it.  We are facing a moral crisis.  And a moral crisis demands a moral solution.

In 2015, Los Angeles County alone accounted for 8 percent of the homeless population throughout the United States – 44,359 on any given night. Many live far beyond the boundaries of Skid Row, sleeping on sidewalks and park benches, under bridges, in cars and abandoned buildings.

With the upcoming release of the 2016 Homeless Count, the situation will seem even bleaker. It is expected to confirm what most residents are already seeing with their own eyes in their own neighborhoods: that more people than ever are living on the streets, often in tents.

The good news is that we know what works and right now, we are seeing positive results from those efforts. One of the County’s programs, Housing for Health, has already taken 1,400 people off the streets and placed them into permanent supportive housing. Another 2,500 will join them by the summer of 2017. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) – a joint County and City agency – has housed 1,500 families in just over the last year and a half.

The Homeless Initiative plan approved by the Board in February should have an even greater impact. Its sweeping strategies are intended, not only to house the homeless, but to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. It also includes increasing affordable and subsidized housing, providing supportive services and raising incomes. The plan calls for unprecedented collaboration among County and City agencies, as well as businesses, faith-based institutions and community organizations.

The City of Los Angeles is an important ally and partner in the fight to tackle homelessness.  However, if the Homeless Initiative is to be successful, it will require the full support of all 88 cities in the County– nothing less.

Academia can also play a pivotal role in searching for ways to best address homelessness.  The University of Southern California just launched an initiative to corral the experience and knowledge on its campus and within the community to provide tangible solutions within four years.

It is clear that focused and careful spending of taxpayer dollars to combat homelessness does work when coupled with clear requirements on outcomes and accountability.

The problem is scale. LAHSA estimates the cost of meeting the needs of the homeless is about $450 million each year, not counting construction. The Board has set aside $100 million – a good start, but not nearly enough.

The crisis already exacts a steep price on taxpayers, in terms of law enforcement and social services.  Providing housing for the homeless enables taxpayer dollars to be spent more effectively.

In the past, voters have stepped up to approve ballot measures to pay for community essentials. Recent polling by the County indicates that voters now rank homelessness as their second-highest concern behind jobs and the economy. A survey by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs found that 6 in 10 County residents consider the lack of affordable housing for low-income families a very serious problem, and that many County residents are worried about going hungry or becoming homeless themselves.

Now is the time to commit resources that match the magnitude of the problem, and make a bold, concerted effort to end homelessness in Los Angeles County.




Homelessness Summit

IMG_0073Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas laid out his “Vision for Action” at a summit on homelessness conducted by the University of Southern California.

“I will repeat what I have said before: Homelessness is the defining civic issue in the County of Los Angeles, and we need to confront it,” he said during a panel discussion. “We are facing a moral crisis, and a moral crisis demands a moral solution.”

“Instead of averting our eyes, we must see it and know it, and then we must move to address it and overcome it,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “We are doing many things right, but we are not doing enough of it. The fact of the matter is we have to radically scale up all our approaches.”

In February, the Board of Supervisors approved 47 strategies to address homelessness and set aside $100 million to implement it. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas called the amount a good start, but not enough.

The County recently conducted a poll to determine whether voters would support a November ballot initiative to raise additional funds. Its results, released over the weekend, showed 76 percent of voters would approve an income tax on people making over a million dollars, while 68 percent would back a sales tax.

“What the poll results show is that voters are willing to work in coordination with the County to improve their neighborhoods and help their neighbors,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Voters understand that stronger communities and improved lives in the future depend on investments today.”

“We at the Board of Supervisors are working diligently to scale up the County’s response but we could not do it without you,” he told the crowd at the summit. “It will take all of us – public and private sectors, and the community – equally yoked together and working together to create a Los Angeles where homelessness is rare and brief.”

USC President C.L. Max Nikias said, “We believe that solutions can only come through close cooperation between academia, government and non-profits across Los Angeles and the surrounding area. It’s an issue that concerns and affects us all, and USC will not be a bystander.”

USC launched the summit on homelessness to engage policymakers, public and private sector leaders, and its own faculty and staff in coming up with ideas to address what Provost Michael Quick calls a “wicked problem.” The summit will provide the basis for more intensive discussion at the Provost’s annual retreat in June 2016, and establish a framework for goals to be achieved by the USC Homeless Initiative over the next two to three years.

A series of panels tackled the current scope of the crisis and initiatives underway to address it; the dire need for supportive services and affordable housing; business and technology solutions; and the role that universities can play in the solution. Panelists included Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price, and United Way of Greater of Los Angeles President and CEO Elise Buik.


Coming Together to Fight Homelessness

MRT Mayor Homeless Summit

Remarks by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas
at the Mayors’ Regional Summit to Combat Homelessness

I’d like to thank Phil Ansell and his hard-working Homeless Initiative team – Leslie Blacher, Ashlee Oh, Leticia Colchado, Michael Castillo and Jerry Ramirez.

Today is a signal day  –  we, who govern the various jurisdictions in the County, have come together to learn more about how we can work together to address this crisis called homelessness.

We are facing a moral crisis. And a moral crisis demands a moral solution.

Instead of averting our eyes from this crisis, we must act intentionally to address it and to overcome it.

It will take all of us – public sector, private sector, communities, County and cities – working together to solve this crisis.

Solving homelessness will require a regional approach, a collaborative approach – not one city, not five cities – but all 88 cities working together with the County towards a common vision.

The County has set aside $100M in new funding – I repeat, one-time funding – to implement this vision.

We are going to need more than one-time funding to fully implement the vision. We are going to need additional ongoing, annual funds.

That’s why the County is currently conducting polling to find out if a November ballot initiative might be prudent.

We will depend on your support to fully implement the County’s homeless plan and to secure ongoing revenue. In the words of Henry Ford: “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”

Thank you and I look forward to working with you.


Exploring Funding to Address Homeless Crisis

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The Board of Supervisors called for exploring options for ongoing revenue dedicated to addressing Los Angeles County’s crisis of homeless.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, in a motion co-authored with Supervisor Michael Antonovich, said the “best budget projections make it very clear that current County resources are not sufficient to fund initiatives and services to combat homelessness on an ongoing basis, and therefore there is a compelling need to pursue new and sustained revenue.”

Acting on their motion, the Board directed the County’s chief executive officer (CEO) to examine the potential for new revenue streams, including those that might require voter approval. It suggested a Mental Health Services Act-like proposal, among other options, and called for polling and research to determine likelihood of passage.

In February, the Board adopted a Homeless Initiative strategy to reduce the numbers of men, women and children living on the streets or in temporary shelters, currently estimated at 44,000 on any given night. The CEO is recommending $100 million in new, one-time funding for those strategies.

“While this is a significant investment through FY 2016-17, this funding will not sustain the recommended strategies beyond June 2017,” Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Antonovich noted in their motion. “With dedicated ongoing annual funding, these strategies – coupled with complementary action by cities throughout the County – can have a very significant impact on the number of homeless families and individuals.”

Several advocates for the homeless testified in support of the motion, including Jovenes Inc. development director Eric Hubbard. “You have made a down payment,” he told the Board. “I ask that you continue to fund these solutions, and investigate and explore all options to end the homeless crisis.”


A Place for the Homeless to Heal

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas declared, “No more patient dumping!” as he celebrated the grand opening of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Recuperative Care Center, a place for homeless patients to recover from illness or injury after being discharged from a hospital.

The latest addition to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus will provide all the basic necessities, including interim housing, meals, transportation and various health services to homeless patients over an average period of four to six weeks. It will also connect them to other services – from life skills classes to mental health counseling to substance abuse treatments – intended to help them achieve stability and transition into permanent supportive housing.

The 100-bed Recuperative Care Center will take in 600 homeless patients a year, reducing the costly overutilization of public hospitals, jails and first responders.

James Tyiska

James Tyiska

“These homeless patients have multiple chronic illnesses and psychiatric impairments and would ordinarily have lingered in a hospital because they had nowhere else to go,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

“The Recuperative Care Center ensures that these medically-fragile persons receive the right level of TLC so they can recover and move on to more appropriate housing,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “A path to recovery – that’s why we’re here.”

James Tyiska is among the first to benefit from the Recuperative Care Center, which began serving patients January 19. “This place more than helped me, it lifted me up,” he said before the ribbon cutting ceremony. “A change is going to come, I see it.”

In his invocation, the Reverend Dr. Norman Johnson, Sr. of the First New Christian Fellowship Baptist Church said the Recuperative Care Center will live up to the legacy of its namesake. “We are witnessing a new day, a better day… and hoping the healing that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. represents will continue,” he said.


Operated by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS), in partnership with JWCH Institute Inc., the Recuperative Care Center is located in the sprawling MLK Medical Campus, which also has the MLK Community Hospital, MLK Outpatient Center, MLK Mental Health Urgent Care Center, and Center for Public Health.

The Recuperative Care Center is the second facility of its kind in the Second District, and boosts the number of recuperative care beds for homeless patients from 63 to 163 countywide. Referrals can come from all County hospitals and clinics.

DHS Director Mitch Katz said the Recuperative Care Center will restore not only the health but also the dignity of the homeless. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has said the County’s crisis of homelessness is the “defining civil rights issue of our time,” and has been instrumental in helping provide coordinated outreach, affordable housing and supportive services to the estimated 44,000 people homeless on any given night in the County.