Making Second Chances a First Priority

Jay Jordan is not ashamed to say that he is an ex-convict.

“I was 19, a young kid, committed a robbery and they gave me seven and a half years with two strikes,” said Jordan.

But he soon realized that with his conviction came tough collateral consequences.

“I got out of prison in 2012 and I wanted to be a barber. Found out I couldn’t do that. I wanted to sell cars. Found out I couldn’t do that. I wanted to sell real estate. Found out I couldn’t do that,” said Jordan.

Currently, there are 8 million Californians who have a state conviction record and who may face over 4800 restrictions similar to the challenges Jordan faced.  These barriers represent limited access to jobs, housing opportunities, educational loans and other key assets to establishing emotional and economic stability.

To address these barriers to re-integration, the Office of Los Angeles County Board Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the Empowerment Congress Public Safety and Justice Committee, in collaboration with the Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership and Californians for Safety and Justice’s Second Chance Project led a Fireside Chat with community and Los Angeles County leadership.

“Criminal justice reform is needed because too many people are incarcerated for long periods of time for reasons that are not important to public safety,” said Peter Espinoza, Director of the LA County Office of Diversion and Reentry.

Espinoza recommends finding new alternatives to incarceration for those individuals suffering from substance abuse disorders and mental illness.

“The mission of this work is for people to understand how important health care reform and justice reform is to the work of reducing barriers for people that are returning citizens,” said Troy Vaughn, Executive Director of L.A. Regional Reentry Partnership.

With measures such as proposition 47, California voters have embraced justice reform prioritizing prevention, rehabilitation, and treatment rather than incarceration. The legislation has helped to shift the paradigm by giving people such as Jay Jordan a second chance at giving back to society.


Community Gathers to Address Homelessness

All photos by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

In a community with one of the heaviest concentrations of Los Angeles County’s homeless population, nearly 100 people attended a town hall meeting and job fair for both those looking to help, and those looking for help, amid the crisis.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas kicked off the morning by encouraging attendees to educate, engage, and empower themselves and their communities. The Empowerment Congress’ Human Services Committee hosted the event at AC Bilbrew Library and invited participants to learn about, and make the most of, Measure H, a voter-approved ballot initiative expected to raise $355 million annually over a decade to provide housing and supportive services to people experiencing homelessness, as well as people at risk of homelessness.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas

“On any given night, 57,000 people in Los Angeles County are experiencing homelessness, and one in three of these individuals resides in the Second Supervisorial District,” Chairman Ridley-Thomas said. “To say there is a great sense of urgency around this issue would be an understatement.”

The County has already taken extraordinary steps prior to the collection of Measure H revenues on October 1, 2017. In February 2016, after an inclusive community process, the County adopted a comprehensive plan with 47 strategies to combat homelessness and invested $100 million in the effort. After voters approved Measure H in March 2017, the County convened a committee of 50 stakeholders to recommend $258 million for ramping up the strategies over the first year.

“Measure H will help us break new ground by providing us with a steady source of funding for all of our Homeless Initiative strategies and more,” Chairman Ridley-Thomas told attendees. “I hope you’ll give serious thought to how you, your family, your organization or your company can be part of this great movement.”

The event featured a plenary session, as well as panel discussions and workshops on a variety of topics, including the demographics of people facing homelessness in the Second District, the social services being funded with Measure H dollars, incentives for landlords willing to rent to people with Section 8 vouchers who are moving off the street, and opportunities for homeowners to build an apartment on their property for the purpose of reducing homelessness.

Phil Ansell, director of the County’s Homeless Initiative, gave an overview of the comprehensive strategies the County is pursuing, and opportunities for non-profits to contract with the County and the LA Homeless Services Authority to work on these strategies. The event also featured a job fair since having employment goes a long way towards lifting people out of homelessness. Employers from both the public and private sectors were on hand with job opportunities, as well as opportunities to develop job skills that could lead to economic self-sufficiency and housing stability.

Event co-sponsors included the Service Planning Area 6 Homeless Coalition, a group of homeless services providers, faith-based organizations, and other stakeholders from South LA and the cities of Compton and Lynwood.

LA County’s Homeless Initiative director Phil Ansell.

County and Cities Team Up to Provide Permanent Supportive Housing

With funding from Measure H, Los Angeles County and its cities are teaming up to quickly place thousands of homeless people into permanent housing that comes with the supportive services, rental subsidies and other assistance needed to thrive.

The Board of Supervisors approved a motion by its Chairman, Mark Ridley-Thomas, and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl that creates a template for such joint County-city efforts. Under this partnership, the County will provide supportive services that would go hand in hand with rental subsidies and other assistance from cities.

LA Councilmen Marqueece Harris-Dawson and José Huizar, and peer advocate Reba Stevens speak at a press conference on County-city partnerships for the homeless.  Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

To date, LA, Long Beach, Pasadena, Burbank, Glendale, Pomona and Redondo Beach have committed a combined total of 2,084 rental vouchers that can be distributed to the homeless. Using the template, the County can streamline the delivery of supportive services – which can include healthcare, mental health and substance abuse treatments, case management, even job training – to the beneficiaries of those rental vouchers.

LA County’s Community Development Commission is currently working with Compton, Santa Monica, Culver City and other cities to ensure their own assistance to the homeless is also matched with supportive services. This wide-ranging collaboration is unprecedented in the nation.

“Homelessness is the defining civic issue of our time and addressing it requires all hands on deck,” Chairman Ridley-Thomas said. “By working cooperatively, efficiently and urgently, the County and cities are not only taking people off the streets but also putting them on a path to long-term stability and recovery.”

Glendale City Councilmember Paula Devine and Burbank City Councilmember Sharon Springer testify, along with representatives of other cities, in favor of streamlining cooperation between cities and the County. Photo by Henry Salazar/Board of Supervisors

West Hollywood Mayor John Heilman said the key is providing permanent supportive housing as opposed to merely housing. “What we are seeing on the streets are people having problems with substance abuse and mental health issues and physical challenges, and we can’t get them the help that they need without both shelter and supportive services.”

LA City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson said, “Homelessness tends not to recognize municipal boundaries, so it requires all of us – from neighborhood to neighborhood, block to block, city to city, council to council, mayor to mayor – to work together to end homelessness in our time.”

“Through the Supervisors’ commitment highlighted by today’s vote, people experiencing homelessness in LA County, including the City of LA, will get the wraparound and rental assistance services they need and deserve,” LA City Councilmember José Huizar said.

Measure H is intended to end homeless for 45,000 people across the County within the next five years, and prevent homelessness for another 30,000 people, including women and children, veterans, seniors, foster youth and survivors of domestic violence. The ¼-cent sales tax approved by voters in March is projected to raise $355 million annually for 10 years.

Also seen on:

Athens Vistas Groundbreaking

Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas led a groundbreaking ceremony for Athens Vistas Apartments, which will provide affordable housing for homeless and low-income seniors in unincorporated Athens when completed in late 2018.

Located at 1300 W. 105th Street, the development will feature 73 affordable and accessible one-bedroom units, half of which will be designated for formerly homeless individuals.

“The project will transform this property from a long-time blight to one of community pride,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas said at the groundbreaking ceremony. He added the community should also anticipate new trees, parks and road improvements, as well as improvements to local business along Vermont Avenue and workforce development opportunities.

Chairman Ridley-Thomas noted 2,000 affordable housing units have been built in the Second District since he took office in 2008. Another 1,000 units are in the pipeline.

“Given that Los Angeles County has a shortage of 500,000 affordable housing units, projects like Athens Vistas Apartments are critical to addressing our crisis of homelessness,” he added.

The Salvation Army, the lead service provider at Athens Vistas, will link residents with essential services based on their individual needs. This will include case management, mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling and other supportive services.

The Los Angeles County Housing Development Corp. and Veloce Partners Inc. are developing the project, with the Birba Group as architect and Walton Construction as general contractor.

Study Reveals College Student Homelessness and Hunger

Lending urgency to Los Angeles County’s sweeping plan for addressing homelessness, the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) revealed a survey of its students that found more than half were unsure about having a steady place to live, while one in five experienced homelessness in the past year.

“Education is the great equalizer in our society, and we must do all that we can to ensure the students in the LACCD system are able to undertake their studies without worrying about having a roof over their heads or enough food to eat,” County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas said during a press conference at LA Trade-Technical College (LATTC).

Almost 6,000 of LACCD’s 134,000 students took the Survey on Food & Housing Insecurity. Among the findings: 18.6 percent of respondents experienced homelessness during 2016, while 55 percent struggled to pay their rent or mortgage and utility bills, and/or had to endure substandard housing conditions in unstable neighborhoods. Meanwhile, 62.7 percent of respondents reported not having enough to eat.

Board Chairman Ridley-Thomas Applauds Myriah Smiley for her resilience

Myriah Smiley, a 19-year-old former foster youth experiencing homelessness in Compton, is studying at LATTC in hopes of starting her own small business someday. She is staying at a friend’s house while awaiting public housing, and occasionally goes hungry. “It’s hard, but I’m still going,” she said.

LACCD Board of Trustees President Scott Svonkin and Trustee Mike Eng said the district would make it easier for students to access on-campus and community resources that would help them secure housing, financial, healthcare and other assistance. The district also plans to let homeless students use on-campus shower facilities and other amenities, and to train faculty, staff and administrators to be more aware of their homeless students’ needs.

Board President Svonkin said, “LACCD has a responsibility to not only educate its students but to ensure that our students are in the best possible position to receive quality education without being hungry in our classrooms.” Trustee Eng added, “By acting on the recommendations contained in the report, we can ensure that our students have the opportunity to succeed without the burden of food insecurity and the stress of homelessness.”

Los Angeles County’s $30-billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 factors in $260 million in revenue from voter-approved Measure H, a ballot measure to fund services and housing for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. The strategy is laid out in the County’s Homeless Initiative website.

Officials of LA County, LACCD and the LA Homeless Services Authority pledge action on homelessness