Finding Home and Health in South LA

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.”

Sleek New Affordable Home Coming to Athens

In a first-of-its-kind partnership, Los Angeles County, Habitat for Humanity (Habitat LA) and the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) will soon break ground on a new model for affordable homes — one that is sleek in its design, environmentally sustainable, and affordable.

The county donated a 4,410-square foot lot in Athens for the project and, recently, authorized $95,000 to build the home, which will also be financed by SCI-Arc and Habitat LA.  Construction began on June 9 at 1232 West 101st  Street, and is expected to last through mid-summer.

“This is an exciting project that really challenges the notion of what affordable housing can look like,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose office initiated the idea to bring  the three partners together. “My hope is that this will serve as a national model for design and for public/private partnerships.”

Added architect and SCI-Arc Director Eric Moss: “A unique urban partnership is about to manifest itself in the inner city. The objective is to change the conventional pro forma of affordable housing, to improve residential livability, to inspire the neighborhood with imaginative possibilities for the future, and to promote sustainability in new housing.”

“The construction of this innovative, affordable home would not be possible without the support of the county, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and SCI-Arc,” said Erin Rank, Habitat LA President and CEO. “We are looking forward to integrating new design and sustainability features into this home, as well as seeing a limited-income hardworking family and the local community benefit from this collaboration.”

During the 2014 fall semester, SCI-Arc students were devoted to the design of a home which focused on innovation, affordability, home-healthy building materials and sustainability.

The 2015 spring semester focused on completing the final design of the three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home. During this upcoming summer semester, SCI-Arc students will join Habitat LA and its volunteer team to build the home. Habitat LA is restricted from selling the home for more than $419,000, and is in the process of selecting a family.

This collaboration not only provided the students with the invaluable opportunity to design and construct a home, but also the chance to learn about the challenges that real-world construction presents and the skill sets it demands.

LA County Expands Safety Net for the Homeless

Beggar falling asleep on the street

The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to widen Los Angeles County’s safety net for the homeless, deploying teams to help particularly vulnerable populations find permanent supportive housing.

“If we are to end homelessness, we must scale up our response to fit the overwhelming need,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

His motion, co-sponsored by Supervisor Hilda Solis, follows the recent release of the 2015 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, which showed a 12 percent increase in homelessness countywide since 2013.

Under the plan approved Tuesday, the county would create seven multi-disciplinary integrated teams (MITs) of medical and mental health professionals to provide “street- and shelter-based intensive engagement and support” for homeless single adults with severe mental illness who may also have substance abuse issues.

Homeless single adults tend to be frequent users of the county’s public hospital emergency rooms, and often get tangled up in the criminal justice system.

In their motion, Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Solis called for identifying funding that could be used to add another team to Skid Row, and to proportionally augment staffing for MITs in South LA, the South Bay and the San Fernando Valley. A report is expected in 60 days.

“It is imperative that resources are targeted to the areas with the greatest geographic burden and need, as demonstrated by the latest homeless count,” Supervisor-Ridley Thomas said.

During the homeless count, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and volunteers found 41,174 homeless people in Greater Los Angeles. When added to homeless counts in Glendale, Pasadena and Long Beach, Los Angeles County has an estimated 44,359 homeless people on any given night. About two-thirds of homeless persons were “unsheltered” and stayed in places not intended for human habitation, such as vehicles, parks, sidewalks and abandoned buildings.

The “Metro” Los Angeles area accounted for 27.7 percent of homeless single adults countywide, with a concentration in Skid Row.  Next in line were South LA, 16.2 percent; the South Bay, 12.1 percent; and the San Fernando Valley, 11.7 percent.

Homeless Count (1)



Willowbrook to Get New Library and Senior Housing

Wilmington renderingMore than 100 units of affordable housing for seniors, an 8,000 square foot library, and an employment center will soon replace a blighted lot on the corner of 118th Street and Wilmington Avenue in Willowbrook.

More than $9 million in county funds have been allocated to the project, which will be developed by Thomas Safran and Associates and the Community Development Commission. Since the property is located one block from the new Martin Luther King Medical Campus, 22 units will be reserved for residents with medical needs.

“This development is the first of its kind in Los Angeles County,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who initiated the project. “We have never built senior housing above a county library and it will serve as an educational anchor and gathering place for the community.”

Willowbrook, a farming area settled in the 1800s, derived its name from the willow trees and rambling brook that decorated its landscape. As its population grew, the neighborhood became known for its homes with deep lots and a community of residents determined to protect it from the encroaching development.

This development is part of a broader, $1 billion investment in the area that includes the MLK Medical Campus, redevelopment of the Rosa Parks Metro station, improved streetscapes, lighting, landscaping, a community garden and other community improvements.

The MLK Medical Campus, which includes a new Outpatient Center, a Psychiatric Urgent Care Center and a Center for Public Health, will be inaugurating a brand new hospital in August.

“With the expansion and development of the new MLK Medical Campus, the tightknit community of Willowbrook will have yet another asset,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “This is a legacy that will live on for generations to come.”

A Crisis of Homelessness

Homeless CountScreen Shot 2015-05-12 at 5.16.25 PM

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called for intensifying efforts to build affordable housing and permanent supportive housing after the 2015 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count found one out of every three homeless people in the county lives in the Second District.

The biennial survey found 14,116 men, women and children in the Second District live on the streets, in vehicles or in shelters, accounting for 34 percent of the county’s homeless population.

“Homelessness is a problem that the entire county of Los Angeles struggles with,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “However, it’s particularly acute in the Second District, and that’s a tragedy.”

“I have made an effort to address this issue by supporting and helping to fund more than 1,500 affordable housing units in the Second District since 2009, but homelessness and the housing crisis are regional issues that require regional responses,” he added. “We all need to work together – city, county, state and federal governments – to build permanent supportive housing in areas that need them most.”

The Homeless Count, conducted in January by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), found 41,174 homeless people throughout Los Angeles County, a 12 percent increase from 2013. About two-thirds of them are considered “unsheltered” or living in places not meant for human habitation, such as vehicles, parks, sidewalks and abandoned buildings. Many are living with mental and physical disabilities or have co-occurring disorders.

“It is imperative that local efforts are redoubled to secure more affordable housing and permanent supportive housing for our residents, to bring about a living wage for households struggling to make ends meet, and to put in place crisis response systems that prevent and end homelessness in a coordinated manner,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

In the Second District, several projects are under way to provide the homeless permanent supportive housing, rental subsidies, and supportive services.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas was an early proponent and funder of the Homeless Family Solutions System, a partnership between LAHSA, the city and county of Los Angeles, and community-based organizations, which has placed over 700 families into permanent housing since July 2014.

He also set aside $250,000 for a one-year pilot program focusing on families living in mobile homes at an RV Park in Rancho Dominguez.

On Tuesday, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas co-sponsored a motion with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl for Los Angeles County to support AB 1335, the Building Homes and Jobs Act. Authored by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, it would establish a permanent source of funding for affordable housing throughout California.

In the months to come, the supervisor also plans to look into “boomerang” redevelopment funds to make sure it’s being used effectively to increase the stock of affordable and permanent supportive housing in the county.

Also under way is the Coordinated Entry System, which prioritizes the most vulnerable among the homeless population – those who rely heavily on the county’s healthcare, social services and criminal justice systems – for permanent supportive housing.