Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas Issues Call to Action At 25th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas marked the 25th anniversary of the Empowerment Congress, a national model for civic engagement, by urging all citizens to continue the fight against homelessness, oppose the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and be vigilant against efforts to undermine their rights.

“Together, we have harnessed community advocacy and activism to influence government policy on a range of complex issues,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas told the nearly 1,500 people who attended the Empowerment Congress summit at USC. “Now, as we work to address the most defining civic issue of our time – homelessness – we must further strengthen our partnership.”

Voters in the March 7 election will consider Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax that would raise about $355 million annually over a decade to provide rental assistance, subsidized healthcare, mental health and substance abuse treatments and other services to help people get off – and stay off – the streets.

Meanwhile, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said plans to undo the Affordable Care Act would be similar to “taking 30 million people off life support” across the U.S., including 1.5 million in Los Angeles County. He added, “It is imprudent from a fiscal perspective, impolitic from governance perspective, and inhumane.”

During the plenary session, U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra, who has been nominated to serve as California’s Attorney General, vowed to the crowd, “I stand with you.” Paraphrasing First Lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Rep. Nanette Barragán added, “Don’t be afraid, be empowered.” Meanwhile, NextGen Climate president Tom Steyer said, “Civic engagement is the bedrock of our democracy.”

Supervisor Janice Hahn described the Empowerment Congress as the forerunner of the neighborhood council movement and “fertile ground for passion and progress.” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl stressed the urgent need to work together for change, saying, “There’s no ‘I’ in empower.”

The plenary session included an original theatrical performance by the Robey Theatre Company that traced the origin and evolution of the Empowerment Congress.

Founded by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in the wake of the 1992 civil unrest in Watts, the Empowerment Congress is a partnership among local residents and community leaders, as well as representatives of neighborhood groups, nonprofit organizations, businesses, religious institutions, and others. It has several committees that meet throughout the year to discuss various issues, and an annual summit with a plenary session and workshops that regularly draw about 1,500 people.


Sobering Center Opens in Skid Row


Cutting the ribbon at the grand opening of the Dr. David L. Murphy Sobering Center in Skid Row.   (Photos by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors)

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas celebrated the grand opening of the Dr. David L. Murphy Sobering Center in Skid Row, the first facility of its kind in Los Angeles County, which will begin accepting patients on Jan. 2.

bca_4043“This Sobering Center will help those struggling with alcoholism without criminalizing them or having them languish in hospital waiting rooms,” he said during the ceremony. “The staff here will help them sober up and link them to interventions that break the destructive cycle of streets, jails, and hospitals.”

Located at 640 S. Maple Street in downtown Los Angeles, the sobering center will be open 24 hours a day, with the capacity to house and stabilize about 50 people at any given time. It will serve predominantly homeless intoxicated individuals who might otherwise be picked up by law enforcement for petty crimes and/or those who might otherwise be transported by first responders to a hospital emergency room for inebriation.

“This is more than a center. This is a new way of life,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at the grand opening. “Yes it will save money. But sometimes in government you do things because they are the right thing to do.”

bca_4143The sobering center is expected to accommodate about 8,000 visits a year by roughly 2,000 individuals. Once they have sobered up, they would be linked to substance abuse treatments, housing and other services. The County partnered with Exodus Recovery Inc. to provide mental health and substance abuse disorder services on site.

“I truly believe that the Sobering Center can change lives because they can get the help they need in order to change their lives like I am doing now, with the help of Exodus,” said Ida Jimenez, who struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction while homeless on Skid Row.

‘“I now deal with life on life’s terms and now have housing, thanks to people who care, like those at Exodus and at the Sobering Center,” she said at the press conference. “The people out here (on Skid Row) are not bad people, they are just stuck not knowing what to do. With the help of the Sobering Center, they can get sober and get the help they desperately need.”

bcb_3933In the past, the Los Angeles Fire Department transported severely intoxicated individuals from Skid Row to the LAC+USC Medical Center, then watched over them until hospital staff could admit them, a process that could take several hours. During that waiting period, those firefighters and paramedics were unable to respond to other calls.

Besides tying up scarce public safety and medical resources at great cost to taxpayers, this does not provide lasting intervention for chronic alcoholics.

The 9,500-sq. ft. sobering center, created on a motion by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis, is named after the late founder of Exodus Recovery, Dr. David L. Murphy, who dedicated his life to helping the sickest, most marginalized and disadvantaged members of society.


Using Healthcare in the Fight Against Homelessness

Remarks by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas for Health Center Week, with the theme, “State of Emergency: Creating Solutions to the Homeless Epidemic,” held at St. John’s Well Child and Family Center.

This week, we take time to commemorate National Health Center Week and recognize community health centers for delivering comprehensive, high-quality preventive and primary health care to patients, regardless of their ability to pay. In addition, we shine a spotlight on healthcare for the homeless.

I will repeat today what I have said before: Homelessness is the defining civic issue in the county of Los Angeles. It is also a civil rights issue and a human rights issue.

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.

Healthcare plays a significant role in righting these wrongs.

Yesterday, we celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital – the one-year anniversary of delivering on a promise.

A critical part of delivering healthcare to the homeless involves making people whole again, and making fractured communities whole again. The County is taking steps to implement the “Whole Person Care” approach, which integrates health, behavioral health, and social services.

IMG_1416In Skid Row, under the auspices of the Department of Health Services, the County is spearheading an integrated approach to engage, assist and house the 2,000 persons living on the streets of Skid Row. This integrated program is called C3 to highlight the collaboration between County, City and Community.

Each C3 integrated team has a nurse, substance use counselor, mental health clinician, an outreach worker with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, and a peer for the homeless, someone who has experienced what they are experiencing now. Over the last five months, the four C3 integrated teams have conducted daily outreach and assisted over 600 unsheltered homeless residents in Skid Row.

  • 311 persons have been connected to interim housing
  • 276 have been assigned to permanent supportive housing
  • 44 people have received keys to move into their own homes

We are going to need additional ongoing, annual funds in our fight against homelessness. Poll after poll has shown that homelessness is a top concern among the electorate. Poll after poll shows that LA County voters are willing to support a homeless revenue measure at the ballot.

We know that we need at least $450 million a year (not counting construction costs) to help the 47,000 men, women and children who find themselves homeless in our County. What looks most promising is a 1/4-cent general sales tax, which would generate $355 million a year, while costing the average Angeleno just $1 a month. That $355 million a year would get us very close to the target. It’s time to get serious so that we can be accountable to the voting public, who are expecting us to act now.

The Board unanimously voted to send a letter urging the Governor to declare a State of Emergency. The California State Assembly overwhelmingly voted for a House Resolution urging the Governor to do the same. We expect the California State Senate to follow suit shortly. Soon there will be two resolutions on the Governor’s desk urging him to acknowledge the reality of 115,000 homeless persons in California.

If a fire had caused 115,000 persons to be homeless, the State would spring into action. It is time to acknowledge the slow-burning fire – the community health disaster, the public health disaster, the mental health disaster, the justice disaster, the employment disaster, the wealth gap disaster – that is consuming the lives of thousands of men, women and children. Let’s ensure that the Governor signs this year, which would trigger $500 million in statewide interim funds, while we work on securing ongoing local revenue.

The County has been circulating an online petition asking the Governor to declare a homelessness emergency in California – and it has garnered almost 25,000 signatures. If you haven’t signed already, please sign today and circulate this important petition within your networks.

We at the Board of Supervisors are working diligently to scale up the County’s response to homelessness – and there is more to come – but we cannot do it without you. Our goal is a Los Angeles where homelessness is rare and brief. Thank you for your partnership, and thank you for your leadership.


Fostering Community Health and Wellness

Radio 1 (1 of 1)-6More than a thousand schoolchildren are returning to school with free backpacks, thanks to  Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and community organizations in South Los Angeles, which teamed up to host back-to-back events fostering health and wellness.


Kids dance at the Community Health and Resource Fair

The Walk4Health, Back2School Backpack Giveaway, and Community Health and Resource Fair all coincided with National Health Center Week, intended to celebrate America’s innovators in community health.

“We take time to commemorate National Health Center Week and recognize community health centers for delivering comprehensive, high-quality preventive and primary health care to patients regardless of their ability to pay,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

IMG_0675The two-mile Walk 4 Health started at St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, continued to UMMA Clinic, and ended at Mt. Carmel Recreation Center where about 80 vendors offered medical, developmental and mental health screenings, pro bono legal clinics, and educational workshops.

The fair also featured fun activities, including arts and crafts, pony rides, a petting zoo, bouncy house, gaming stations, music, free food, and a raffle that included an iPad among the prizes.

More than 1,2000 children and teens received free backpacks during the Back 2 School event co-sponsored by the Special Needs Network (SNN), California’s leading grassroots autism advocacy organization, for an afternoon filled with family-friendly fun and critical socialization.

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Walk 4 Health

“We began Back 2 School to provide underserved children and youths with the tools essential for school success,” SNN president and cofounder Areva Martin, Esq., said. “Today, we address not only academic needs, but health and wellness as well.”

Other event partners included Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, the Southside Coalition of Community Health Centers, St. John’s Well Child and Family Center and UMMA Clinic.


Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital 1st Anniversary

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas hosted medical campus leadership and staff for a celebration of the First Anniversary of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital.

“Employees and the staff here matter,” the Supervisor said.

The 131-bed community hospital opened its doors last month, eight years after the closure of the King/Drew Medical Center. Its mission: providing compassionate, innovative and quality care to the 1.35 million residents of South Los Angeles – regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.

“We can celebrate a gorgeous building with 60,000 patients coming through the emergency room every year,” said Manuel Abascal, chairman of the hospital’s Board of Directors.

Los Angeles County invested $284 million to build the hospital, and provided another $171 million in startup funding before handing off responsibility for day-to-day operations to the private nonprofit Martin Luther King, Jr. Los Angeles Healthcare Corporation.

“I’m so proud of all of you for making this dream come true,” said Dr. John Fisher, Chief Medical Officer of Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital.