Metro’s PATH to End Homelessness

Ishmael Anderson and Chairman Ridley-Thomas meet at Pershing Square Metro Station. All photos by Henry Salazar / Board of Supervisors

Ishmael Anderson, a young soon-to-be father, found himself looking for shelter with his girlfriend, Ashley, at the Pershing Square Metro station in downtown Los Angeles.  But this was no ordinary day for homeless youth in Los Angeles.

“This is PATH,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ridley-Thomas introducing Ishmael and Ashley to People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), “You’re going to be in good shape.”

Chairman Ridley-Thomas was joined by Metro CEO Philip Washington, Metro System Security and Law Enforcement Chief Alex Wiggins, and Metro’s multi-disciplinary  outreach teams during a visit to Metro stations at 7th Street and Pershing Square.  Two homeless outreach teams surveyed the area, each composed of five members including a nurse, substance abuse counselor, mental health clinician, a formerly homeless individual, and an outreach worker from PATH.  The teams now work exclusively on the Metro Red Line as part of a pilot program conducting outreach Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. to help connect homeless individuals with much needed services.

The coordinated effort is a result of a motion authored by Chairman Ridley-Thomas and Metro Directors John Fasana and Mike Bonin allocating $1.2M to combat the homeless epidemic on Metro stations in Los Angeles County.  From Long Beach to Lancaster, many of the 58,000 homeless individuals in the county seek shelter within Metro’s stations, and by riding trains and buses.

Since beginning this outreach, Metro’s outreach teams have made over 1,400 contacts with homeless individuals and placed roughly 10 percent into housing solutions.

This homeless outreach method is being replicated on Metro following successful homeless engagement in Los Angeles’ “Skid Row” – a community in Downtown Los Angeles with a large homeless presence. And Chairman Ridley-Thomas hopes to expand the program with additional Measure H dollars.  The county has set aside $73 million for expanding outreach in the first three years of Measure H.

“This is just one small part of our large scale collaborative effort now underway to combat homelessness by connecting our angels,” the Chairman said.

(Also reported by KPCC.)


Homeless Outreach Teams Fan Out Across Los Angeles County

Calling it “Measure H at work,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas announced that “street engagement teams” are fanning out across Los Angeles County to have face-to-face interactions with people experiencing homelessness, and to help them access housing, healthcare, and other supportive services.

“All over the County of Los Angeles, you’ll find us working, doing what we need to do, lifting people up and restoring them to their full purpose and capacity,” Board Chairman Ridley-Thomas said at a news conference near where one of the teams was preparing to reach out to a homeless encampment near the 110 freeway in South LA.

A street outreach team talks to a woman at a South LA homeless encampment. All photos by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

Measure H, a voter-approved quarter-cent sales tax, will enable the County to create more street engagement teams as well as fund other efforts to help the homeless population, currently estimated at 58,000. The County began collecting the sales tax on October 1st and is working with nonprofit organizations such as the Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care System (HOPICS) to build those teams.

“This is one of the most innovative and impactful strategies within LA County’s Homeless Initiative because it really allows us time to build rapport and trust with people on the street in order to encourage them to be willing to accept the services and resources that are offered,” HOPICS Division Director Veronica Lewis said. “It provides a robust mix of quality-of-life resources and specialized services on site – right on the street – such as medical care, mental health treatment, addiction support.”

Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said the homeless outreach teams’ mission is to “meet our homeless brothers and sisters where they are, geographically, socially, emotionally and medically.” The County’s Health Agency Director, Dr. Mitch Katz, added, “We’re so proud to be partners with so many great agencies, and we look forward to the great success that’s going to occur now with the passage of Measure H.”

Monica Potts said she is no longer living on the streets, thanks to HOPICS. “What they offered me was clothing, housing, shelter, food, hygiene and outreach. I just want to thank HOPICS for striving and never giving up. I’m currently housed since June 2017 – God bless you.”

Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas visits a homeless encampment near the 110 freeway in South LA.

Immediately following the press conference, street outreach teams walked a few blocks to a homeless encampment and got to work. At least one person accepted their offer of shelter and other supportive services.

The County piloted street engagement teams in Skid Row back in January 2016, with each team consisting of a nurse, a substance use counselor, a mental health clinician, a social worker or outreach worker, and a person who has experienced homelessness. Together, they moved almost 300 people into permanent supportive housing, placed 600 people in interim housing, and matched 400 people to intensive services.

Encouraged by that success, the Board expanded the program countywide starting last spring. From May through September, street engagement teams have connected more than 1,000 people to services and are in the process of helping almost 400 people find permanent housing. To date, they have placed 363 people in interim housing, and helped 24 people move into housing with home-based services.

HOPICS Division Director Veronica Lewis explains outreach efforts.

Public-Private Partners Unite
To Fight Homelessness

The quest to end homelessness in Los Angeles County has never looked more promising, thanks to the generosity and compassion of voters who passed Measure H.

Still, with almost 58,000 people homeless on any given night – more than enough to fill every seat at Dodger Stadium – it is clear that even with these newfound resources, we need to continue thinking outside the box.

This month, we are doing just that, by ramping up an initiative called Just In Reach through an innovative financing model that taps private capital to serve public interest.

All photos by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

Under this arrangement, the County can scale up promising new approaches to addressing homelessness, without taking on financial risk. If the initiative’s goals are met, investors can get their money back, plus interest.

It is a new kind of public-private partnership that fills an urgent need in society while ensuring accountability.

Chronically homeless individuals with severe mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders tend to stretch the limits of the County’s social safety net and criminal justice system. To emphasize alternatives to incarceration whenever possible, we created the Office of Diversion and Reentry. Meanwhile, the Department of Health Services launched Housing for Health, which has already placed 3,500 individuals in permanent supportive housing, and kept 96 percent of them from returning to life on the streets for at least a year.

A 2013 Economic Roundtable report estimated that taxpayers spend an average of $64,000 annually on each homeless individual who is a particularly intensive user of public services. Compare that to only $17,000 per person per year on permanent supportive housing, which can include intensive case management, healthcare, mental health and substance abuse disorder treatments, and other services.

Inside a permanent supportive housing unit for the homeless and disabled in South LA.

The Office of Diversion and Reentry will manage Just In Reach, in partnership with the Corporation for Supportive Housing and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. The Sheriff’s Department and other County agencies will provide support, while the RAND Corporation will handle performance evaluations.

If Just In Reach meets performance benchmarks, such as keeping individuals in stable housing for at least a year, its private investors could earn a combined total of $1.5 million in interest. UnitedHealth Group, a health and wellbeing company that serves more than 3.7 million people in California, put $7 million into the initiative. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, a regional leader in private philanthropy to end chronic homelessness, invested $3 million. Both have decided to postpone collecting their prospective profits, and instead put the money back into the initiative for now.

It is wrong that our County jails have become de facto mental hospitals, conscripted to fill the void created by a 1950s social experiment called psychiatric deinstitutionalization that shut down state asylums. Jails are for holding those who have committed serious offenses, not for treating chronically homeless individuals with mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders. Our County hospital emergency rooms, already at capacity, are not the proper place for this population either.

Just In Reach shows what can be accomplished when the best concepts and practices from the public and private sectors are merged and magnified. We need more creative solutions like it if we are to have real impact in fight homelessness, the defining civic issue of our time.

Cities’ Summit to Combat Homelessness

Recognizing that homelessness knows no boundaries, Los Angeles County officials convened a summit with city leaders and policy experts to demonstrate their shared commitment to addressing the crisis and to underscore the power of collaboration.

The 2nd Annual Cities’ Summit to Combat Homelessness included a deep dive on outreach strategies, ways to boost the stock of temporary and permanent housing, and efforts to prevent families and individuals from becoming homeless in the first place. All are part of the County’s Homeless Initiative to be funded with Measure H, a voter-approved sales tax projected to raise an unprecedented $355 million a year for a decade to provide housing and supportive services to those experiencing homelessness, or are at risk of it.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas addresses the 2nd Annual Cities’ Summit to Combat Homelessness. All photos by Henry Salazar/Board of Supervisors.

“Even before we start to collect the tax on October 1st, the County is already hard at work,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas told summit participants representing dozens of cities across the County. “Immediately after ballot measure passed on March 7th, the County convened a 50-member community stakeholder committee to plan the allocation of Measure H resources, and the Board approved their proposed spending plan in June. To ensure accountability, it also appointed a Citizens’ Oversight Committee, which just held its first meeting.”

“Meanwhile, nonprofits are ramping up to take innovative solutions to scale, including landlord incentives and subsidies to build secondary homes in backyards,” he added. “New partnerships among the County and cities’ various Housing Authorities have already resulted in housing and services commitments to help more than 2,000 homeless persons. That’s Measure H in action, and we’re just getting started.”

County CEO Sachi Hamai said, “Homelessness not only erodes the lives of families and individuals, it profoundly affects the wellbeing of entire communities, and that requires a concerted, regional approach by the County, its cities and our grassroots partners. The power of collaboration can save lives.”

Held in Carson, the summit also covered grants for cities to plan their respective responses to homelessness, as well as the public health response to the local hepatitis A outbreak. Last year’s summit was held in South Gate.

County CEO Sachi Hamai

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.