Faces of the Homeless Fuel the Fight

Los Angeles County Supervisors now have a daily reminder of the “Faces of Homelessness,” an art exhibit on display just outside their downtown offices in the Hall of Administration. The exhibit, unveiled June 1, features 18 oil-on-canvas portraits of homeless neighbors accompanied by moving biographies.

“The portraits and biographies are filled with human tragedy,” the artist, Dr. Stuart Perlman, said. “If you hear their stories and look into their eyes, you will never see a homeless person the same way again.”

The artist, Dr. Stuart Perlman

The artist, Dr. Stuart Perlman

Dr. Stuart Perlman has been a psychologist and psychoanalyst in West Los Angeles for over 30 years. In 2010, he began painting portraits of homeless individuals. He spent hours listening to their stories and getting to know them. He now has over 160 portraits of homeless individuals from Venice Beach to Skid Row.

“These are portraits of actual people, who have a name, a past, and more importantly, a future,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said at the unveiling.

“Displaying this captivating art is important, but it is vital that we take action to address the crisis of homelessness,” the Supervisor said.

The County Board of Supervisors is doing just that—specifically, asking the State to permit the County to ask voters if they are willing to allow a personal income tax on the wealthy to fund homelessness programs. Based on the county’s call to action, a coalition of state legislators sent an open letter to the Governor, Assembly Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem in support of Los Angeles County’s request seeking a tax on personal income in excess of $1 million.

To help fund the fight against homelessness, please join the Board of Supervisors in contacting state lawmakers to voice your support.

Preserving Our Options to Fund the Fight Against Homelessness

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Over several hours of impassioned testimony, dozens of advocates for the homeless urged the Board of Supervisors to approve a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl that would keep all options open for addressing Los Angeles County’s crisis of homelessness.

The Board voted to continue discussing the motion on May 17.

It has been weighing several options to pay for programs to help the homeless, from redirecting Measure B revenue to imposing a parcel tax, a marijuana tax, a sales tax, or a tax on personal income exceeding $1 million per year.

Preserving the last option requires an amendment to State law. Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl’s motion directs the Board to “pursue a change in State law to grant counties the authority to seek voter approval of a tax on personal income above $1 million/year to combat homelessness.”

“I think we need to be resolute and charge the state Legislature and the Governor with the opportunity and/or the obligation to help us to fight, end, work on, eradicate, address this issue of homelessness, which is worsening as we speak,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

MRT Homeless1 (1 of 1)“If the state Legislature chooses not to do it, it won’t because we failed to make the request,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “We would want to be recorded as having moved an agenda that sought to raise the dignity and worth of all Angelenos.”

According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 2016 Homeless Count, 46,874 people are homeless on any given night in Los Angeles County, a 6 percent increase from last year. Still, the number of homeless veterans declined 30 percent, and there are 18 percent fewer homeless persons among families with children.

Phil Ansell, director of the County’s Homeless Initiative, noted recent polling found 68 percent of likely voters would support a sales tax increase to fund programs for the homeless. An even larger number, 76 percent, would back a tax increase on incomes exceeding $1 million.

More than 100 people signed up to testify before the Board on the issue, including some who had experienced homelessness first hand, and some who provide services to the homeless every day.

Alex Johnson, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund, said, “We have a moral obligation to improve the quality of life of those who are homeless, sleeping in shelters and cars and hotels, or doubled up on a couch. Innumerable individuals are just one paycheck, one illness, one family crisis away from homelessness.”

People Assisting The Homeless (PATH) executive director Katie Hill said, “In over 30 years of operating, we’ve never seen so much public attention focused on homeless or the public support, as indicated by the polling results, to implement and fund long-term solutions. The public is asking for actions and is willing to invest. This motion is a necessary step towards providing the critical resources needed to ensure our ability to end homeless in our communities.”

“I know raising taxes is always going to be something that divides this Board room, but I do think we should at least keep the option open,” Eric Ares with the Los Angeles Community Action Network said. “This is not about voting for the tax, but about keeping the option open, keeping the debate going”

“We have unprecedented political will on the part of the supervisors, the voters, the advocacy community, service providers, the city,” Ares added. ”This is our moment to make this happen so, at the very least, we shouldn’t be shutting the door to the idea that we could do this.”

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Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas speaks with advocates for the homeless after they testified before the Board of Supervisors in support of his motion, which was coauthored by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

Finding Home and Health in South LA

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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.”

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.

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A New Way of Life for Former Inmates

Joseph Baddley, 53, became homeless after being in and out of prison. Not having access to medical care, when Baddley became sick, he hit rock bottom. But thanks to a new program to build more supportive housing in Los Angeles County, Baddley has found an apartment to call home. The 43 units, spread over five formerly blighted and foreclosed properties in South Los Angeles, were specifically created for those who were homeless, veterans in need of housing, former inmates re-entering the community, those living with special needs and those with mental health illnesses.

“Many people helped save my life,” said Baddley. “I love my home and I treat it as a gift,” said Baddley.

Recent ribbon cutting for the the Coalition for Responsible Community Development apartments.

The apartments represent the best of what government, the private sector and community organizations can accomplish when they work together. The project was sponsored by the Coalition for Responsible Community Development and involved a successful collaboration among Los Angeles County, Los Angeles City, the Corporation for Supportive Housing, Restore Neighborhoods Los Angeles, Los Angeles Housing Department, California Housing Finance Agency and Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health among others. The project was completed in August 2013 at a total development cost of $10.5-million. Ten of the 43 units are specifically designed for the visually, physically or mobility impaired.

“CRCD Apartments, with its support from both the City and the County, is a example of permanent supportive housing that works,” said CRCD Executive Director Mark Wilson, noting that residents will be eligible to receive mental health services, regular health care and an array of social services supported with intensive case management.

Former inmate and resident Yolanda Brown. Photo courtesy of CRCD.

For women who have been incarcerated, the apartments offer an especially important place. Many women who are former inmates have trouble finding jobs and housing and end up on the street, where they are often in danger, explained Susan Burton, executive director of A New Way of Life, one of the organizations responsible for the successful re-entry efforts. A New Way of Life supports these residents by providing therapy and legal assistance at court hearings. Many women residents are mothers with children, Burton said. These mothers also receive job training services and assistance with child care.

Resident and former inmate Joseph Baddley tears up while welcoming Supervisor Ridley-Thomas into his new home.

At the recent grand opening of the apartments, Baddley invited a few guests into his home including A New Way of Life Executive Director Susan Burton and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“He invited us into his home, held back his tears best he could and told us his story,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “This is the face of reentry.”

Supporting affordable housing has been a focus for the Supervisor since taking office in 2008. Since 2009, the Supervisor has helped to create 1,100 units in the second district representing a total public/private investment of more than $350-million. And 295 additional units are now under construction representing an additional $121-million.

During his public remarks at the grand opening, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas focused on the economic benefits of supportive housing to the county. He noted that building housing costs far less than incarceration.

“Many talk about redemption, recovery and reentry,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “The Coalition for Responsible Community Development is doing it.”