Addressing Homelessness with Compassionate and Innovative Strategies

In a county as prosperous as Los Angeles, and a state as wealthy as California, homelessness is a moral crisis – a moral crisis that will define our civic legacy in the eyes of future generations.

Almost a year ago today, on March 7, 2017, the County of Los Angeles celebrated the historic passage of Measure H. The voters of this County dug deep into their hearts and their wallets, and decided to tax themselves in order to help their fellow brothers and sisters who did not have homes.

Many of you recognize the sustained effort it took to achieve that landmark collective victory in March 2017 – during an off-cycle election. Not since 1902 had there even been an attempt to place a revenue enhancement measure on the March ballot – that’s how bold the idea was! So how did we get here?

As you approach downtown, the skyline provides a stark illustration of the income and wealth gap in our region. Mere steps away from dozens of cranes looming above the gleaming towers of downtown, we find human beings living in utter squalor, subjected to unspeakable living situations. This jarring juxtaposition is visible in every corner of the County.

But a crisis can also be a turning point.

National Alliance to End Homelessness. All photos by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

In May 2015, when the Homeless Point-In-Time Count showed an uptick and, in particular, an uptick in street encampments, I knew that the status quo had to be changed radically.

In August 2015, the Board of Supervisors and LA County officially declared homelessness to be one of its top priorities. LA County then established the Homeless Initiative, and embarked on a series of 18 policy summits and public hearings.

In February 2016, this process culminated in a comprehensive action plan, crafted in partnership with community stakeholders. The County devoted $100M in one-time funds to implement the community action plan – but I strongly felt that we had a pact with the community to find ongoing funds to implement the strategies in the years to come.

The time was right because poll after poll showed that homelessness trumped every other issue – it was more top of mind than traffic, than public safety, than education.

The County explored a variety of revenue options – Millionaire’s tax, General sales tax, Parcel tax, and Marijuana business tax. After a process of elimination, we landed on a quarter-cent special sales tax, and we called it Measure H.

Measure H passed resoundingly in March with 70% of the vote. Measure H will provide $355M a year for 10 years and allow us to scale up compassionate and innovative strategies.

In June 2017, the Board of Supervisors endorsed the consensus recommendations of the 50-member committee of stakeholders. The 5-member Citizens’ Oversight Board, which will monitor Measure H expenditures, met twice in 2017 and will meet again on March 8, 2018. Their task is accountability.

We only started to collect the tax on October 1, 2017, but, as you can see, the County was already hard at work. Measure H is expanding funding for Multi-Disciplinary Teams that consist of nurses, mental health clinicians, substance use counselors, and people with lived experience.

These street engagement teams are working together to canvass LA County’s 4,000 square miles, provide daily engagement and access to County services and housing.

From July to December 2017, these street teams have linked almost 3,000 people to essential services.

In addition:

  • 441 have agreed to come indoors to crisis/bridge housing;
  • Almost 400 are in the housing search process; and
  • Almost 100 have moved into supportive housing.

Along with the expansion of street teams, we are ramping up our supply of 24/7 enhanced interim housing options. We are funding more recuperative care beds, substance use detox beds, and alternatives to incarceration. Finally, we are creating more affordable permanent housing options for those exiting from interim housing.

This quarter, the County will approve capital funding for over 1,300 units of affordable and special needs housing. And we are working on ordinances to streamline and accelerate the development of more affordable and supportive housing.

We are coupling new housing with Measure H-funded support services.

In August 2017, the County partnered with the 17 Housing Authorities in our region to craft joint commitments to set aside tenant-based housing vouchers matched with intensive services. In December, we signed a Joint MOU with the City of LA to commit Measure H-funded supportive services for the 10,000 supportive housing units being built through the LA City bond measure, Proposition HHH.

From July to December 2017, almost 1,300 tenants of new supportive housing have been linked to intensive services. We are not only building housing, we are rebuilding lives!

The County is funding financial incentives for landlords to encourage homeowners to rent their units to homeless people. It is also expediting the construction and rehabilitation of second dwelling units in people’s backyards, and helping homeowners rent those units to homeless people. These are just some of many tools in the County’s Measure H toolbox to activate true partnerships with private stakeholders.

The hard task of implementation is underway, with the nonprofits recruiting, hiring and training over 1,000 positions to expand services and “right-size” our regional system.

As we sit here today, there are approximately 58,000 men, women and children who will struggle to find a place tonight. Two-thirds of our homeless neighbors are “unsheltered” – sleeping at night in cars, tents, makeshift shelters and other places not meant for human habitation.

At this conference, you will hear about some of the challenges but, more importantly, you will hear about some of the solutions. We believe that this crisis can be resolved but it will take all of us working together.

As we move through implementation of Measure H, we have to keep our public, and each other, engaged and informed. This is why on March 9th, United Way will launch Everyone In.

Over the next 10 years, the Everyone In campaign will engage people across Los Angeles County to join together in creating better lives for all who are experiencing homelessness. Our collective pursuit should be to create opportunities so that anyone who calls LA County home is able to live a life of dignity and purpose.

Our homeless neighbors are depending on us – so let’s get to work. I’m in! Are you in? Everyone In!

Counting the Homeless
to Better Deliver Services

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas talks to man living in a homeless encampment in North Hollywood during the first night of the 2018 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count. Photo by Michael Owen Baker/Board of Supervisors.

More than 8,000 volunteers spread out across 4,000 square miles on three winter nights to conduct the 2018 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count.

Homeless Count press conference. L-R: Councilwoman Nury Martinez, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Controller Ron Galperin, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Photo by Michael Owen Baker/Board of Supervisors

The data from the federally mandated census will offer a comprehensive look at the state of homelessness in Los Angeles County on any given night, including geographic distribution and trends among various populations. It will be released to the public in May.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas counted in North Hollywood on the first night, Carson on the second night, and Leimert Park on the third night.

“The Count will help us identify where resources are most needed and measure progress as nonprofits ramp up their services to a level never seen before, thanks to Measure H,” he said, referring to the 1/4-cent sales tax approved by voters on March 2017 to generate about $355 million annually to end and prevent homelessness.

Homeless Count volunteers study a census map at the Juanita Millender McDonald Community Center in Carson. Photo by Michael Owen Baker/Board of Supervisors.

“Thanks to Measure H, LA County’s public and nonprofit partners are gearing up to house 45,000 men, women and children over the next five years, and prevent homelessness for 30,000 others,” added the Supervisor, who championed Measure H. “Each of us has a part to play in helping resolve this humanitarian crisis and this includes the essential work of the 8,000 volunteers who participate in the Homeless Count.”

“Every Angeleno counts, whether they have an address or not,”  Mayor Eric Garcetti said at a press conference to kick off the Count. “This year’s count takes on new importance because it will help us better target and deliver the permanent supportive housing, emergency shelter, and ongoing services that Angelenos made possible when they voted for Prop. HHH and Measure H.”

A volunteer interacts with a woman at a homeless encampment in Carson. Photo by Michael Owen Baker/Board of Supervisors

Proposition HHH, passed in November 2016, would finance the construction of 8,000 to 10,000 permanent supportive housing units for the chronically homeless over the next decade. It would also fund affordable housing, temporary shelters and other amenities needed by the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless.

“In the face of one of the most fraught epidemics our city has faced, the Count is our opportunity to make a difference,” City Controller Ron Galperin said at the press conference. “Homelessness is experienced in every part of our city, and by children and adults; however, without a proper accounting of exactly where our most vulnerable are – including homeless veterans, teens or those escaping domestic violence – we may not be able to adequately help those in dire need. Please join me in making sure that everyone counts.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with Homeless Count volunteers who had assembled at the Juanita Millender McDonald Community Center in Carson. Photo by Michael Owen Baker/Board of Supervisors.

“Good policy starts with having good information,” Councilwoman Nury Martinez added.  “The data from tonight’s count will go a long way toward determining where resources are most urgently needed and how they should be applied.”

“The results of the Count help us implement the best strategies to meet our homeless neighbors’ needs, together,” said Stephanie Klasky-Gamer, President and CEO, the nonprofit LA Family Housing.

The “street count” occurred in the San Fernando Valley and Santa Clarita, as well as the San Gabriel Valley, on January 23. It moved to West LA, the South Bay and East Los Angeles on January 24, and in the Antelope Valley, South LA and Central LA on January 25.

In addition to the “street count,” a “shelter count” was also conducted, during which shelters and transitional housing programs counted the number of people in their programs. The Youth Count is a survey-based count during the last two weeks of January. The final component is one-on-one interviews with 6,000 people to capture demographic information.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with Homeless Count volunteers assembled at Community Build in Leimert Park. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors.





Fast-tracking Funding for Affordable Housing

Willowbrook 2 project

The Board of Supervisors approved $50 million to build affordable housing for people with mental illness and their families using funds from the Mental Health Service Act (MHSA).

“This is an innovative way to finance 10 urgently needed supportive housing projects and put them on the fast track,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, principal author of the motion, said. “The plan calls for building 667 affordable housing units, including 230 units for people in dire need of mental health treatment and their families.”

“By taking these actions, in addition to what the County had originally budgeted for this year, we are able to fund additional supportive homes for people who have a mental health diagnosis and are homeless,” added the motion’s coauthor, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “We are also supporting construction of additional affordable apartments and I am hoping that every one of these apartments can be under construction before the end of the year.”

Of the total amount, $43.75 million will be used by the Community Development Commission to fund competitive affordable housing applications. The remaining $6.25 million will be used in a separate competition to investigate innovative ways to fund housing.

A portion of the money will help fund 100 affordable housing units in Willowbrook, half of which would be reserved for homeless individuals with mental health needs. Nonprofit developer LINC Housing’s chief operating officer, Suny Lay Chang, called it “a tremendous investment that would be felt at multiple levels.”

“As numerous studies have shown, integrating housing and health care leads to better health outcomes, greater housing stability, and a significant reduction in the use of county resources,” she said. “We are extremely grateful to the Board of Supervisors for their continued and sustained support in addressing the housing shortage in Los Angeles County, particularly for our most vulnerable populations.”

Voters approved the MHSA as Proposition 63 on the November 2004 ballot. It imposes a 1 percent income tax on personal income in excess of $1 million, allowing the California Department of Mental Health to provide increased funding, personnel and other resources to support County mental health programs and monitor progress toward statewide goals for children, transition age youth, adults, older adults and families.

The MHSA addresses a broad continuum of prevention, early intervention and service needs and the necessary infrastructure, technology and training elements that will effectively support this system.

A One-Stop Shop for Serving
Homeless Families in South LA

Thanks to Measure H, a one-stop shop for services to families experiencing homelessness has opened in South Los Angeles, helping an estimated 300 households – or about 1,100 men, women and children – stay off the streets on any given night.

LA Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, HOPICS Director Veronica Lewis, LA Councilman Curren Price, Special Services for Groups’ Herb Hatanaka

The HOPICS Family Solutions Center brings together more than 10 nonprofit and government agencies, and acts as a hub for a comprehensive range of services, including housing, jobs, and mental health and substance abuse treatments. HOPICS stands for Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care System, and it is the lead nonprofit agency for coordinating homeless services in South LA.

Located in what used to be the Weber bakery, the 40,000-square foot Center began serving homeless families in July, and is continuing to hire staff to ramp up its operations. It currently receives almost $9 million in funding from LA County, including $6 million from Measure H, a 1/4-cent sales tax championed by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and approved by voters in March 2017. It also receives about $1 million from LA City.

From July-December 2017, the Center:

  • screened more than 3,000 families;
  • helped 630 families avoid homelessness;
  • helped more than 125 families avoid eviction;
  • provided crisis housing to more than 465 homeless families; and
  • helped 50 homeless families find a stable place to live.

Trauma Resource Center at the HOPICS Family Solutions Center

“This is Measure H at work, and it’s only the beginning,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Together with our growing network of public and private partners, we are expanding services to get people off the streets and into homes. That’s how we’re going to solve this crisis – with everyone pitching in to help.”

“Measure H has enabled us to double our staff and activate the collective resources of multiple public and private partners to help families experiencing homelessness,” HOPICS director Veronica Lewis said. “Each day, we keep about 300 families off the streets as we work with them to find a safe place to live.”

Domonique Butler, who is eight and a half months pregnant, said she is grateful for the help. “I feel awesome about this Center,” she said. “HOPICS is wonderful because they help me out in so many different ways.”

Measure H is expected to raise $355 million every year for 10 years to provide supportive services to the homeless. This unprecedented funding stream is expected to help 45,000 homeless men, women and children move into stable housing within the next five years, and provide them with the high-quality, multi-dimensional supportive services they need to succeed in the long run. It is also expected to prevent an estimated 30,000 people from becoming homeless.

HOPICS ribbon cutting ceremony with (L-R) LA Homeless Services Authority executive director Peter Lynn, LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Special Services for Groups’ Herb Hatanaka, HOPICS Director Veronica Lewis and LA Councilman Curren Price. All photos by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

Giving the Gift of Help

Once homeless herself, Shaunte Davis is now helping others get their lives back on track. Thanks to Measure H, she and her fellow “housing navigators” at St. Margaret’s Center in Inglewood help take individuals and families off the streets and into housing. 8