Formerly Homeless Find Affordable Housing

For seven years, Irvin Dixon, 59, had been homeless in Los Angeles County.  He slept on public benches and waited in long lines for free meals.  Sal Tovar, 52, had spent nine years homeless.  He remembers taking “bird baths” in the park to stay clean.  But thanks to a collaboration among the city, county and several community groups, 56 new units that rent for about $50 a month are home to nearly 100 other residents such as Dixon and Tovar.

Addressing an audience assembled recently to mark the opening of the South Los Angeles Supportive Housing Program,  Yolanda Vera, deputy for healthcare services for Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, said: “This is an example of blight made right.”

The Department of Health Services Neighborhood Stabilization Project Housing development consists of 15 formerly-blighted properties.  The properties were purchased and remodeled by the City of Los Angeles Housing Department and Restore Neighborhoods Los Angeles and are now operated by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.  The project is a collaborative partnership among the city, the county, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, Home for Good and the Hilton Foundation.

The new housing is aimed to help those homeless individuals who are most in need and high users of county health resources.

“Providing housing is actually money-saving for the health system,” said Dr. Mitchell Katz, Director for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.  According to Dr. Katz, housing one homeless person costs between $600 to $900 per month whereas hospital time can cost $3,300 per day.  The health services department estimates that the annual cost for inpatient services for homeless patients is roughly $70 million or $30,000 per patient.

The comprehensive project includes mental health services and substance abuse treatment.  Over $12 million in newly renovated housing units were provided by the City of Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department.  $5.4 million in rental subsidies over 10 years was provided by the Housing Authority of the city of Los Angeles.  $7.2 million over 10 years in health services was provided by the Los Angeles County Departments of Health Services, Mental Health and Public Health.

According to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, “These new units are just the beginning of a revolutionary approach to heal through housing.”

Tovar does not forget his own recent struggles: Once a month he loads a suitcase full of cakes, bread and tortillas and takes it to a food bank to help feed less fortunate homeless people.  He feels compelled to “pay it forward.” Tovar said, “It makes me feel good because I’m able to help them out.”

Can Housing L.A. County’s Homeless Families Save Money?


In Los Angeles County, 7,391 families struggle nightly to find a way to survive without shelter. In 2010, several agencies began to develop a regional approach to providing not just housing, but supportive services and need-based assistance to better help homeless families regain stability. In some cases, mental health and substance abuse services, or housing assistance made the difference.

The Family Solutions Centers started last March with $3.7 million in city and county funding, with the goal of rapidly rehousing homeless households and offering centers throughout Los Angeles County where homeless can go to have problems professionally assessed. To date, there are seven lead agencies that host Family Solution Centers in six of the eight service planning areas in Los Angeles County. These Family Solutions can direct families to health services, employment assistance services, rental assistance or emergency housing. And the program has already proven to be successful, having seen 1,542 families between March and December. Three hundred and two of those families were able to avoid homelessness, 305 were placed in interim housing, and 417 were provided permanent housing.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved an additional $10.2 million to set up more Family Solution Centers to offer more services. An additional $2.4 million is also being considered for mental health services. The centers will extend to at least eight agencies and promises to service all eight service planning areas in Los Angeles County. The services will be expanded to include social service case managers and substance abuse treatment. The expanded program will promote collaboration between public agencies and homeless service providers and be called the Homeless Family Solutions System. The system also includes the collection of data to assess which programs are working and to track long term success with families.

“Families are the core of our community,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “And today we have the opportunity to improve the way we deliver services to those families most in need.”

Christine Mirasy-Glasco, executive director of Upward Bound House, a community-based social service agency, testified before Board of Supervisors Tuesday in support of expanding Family Solutions Centers. The centers, she said, have streamlined the process of getting help for families. “Families used to have to travel around the entire county every day looking for services,” Mirasy-Glasco said. “This changes all of that.”

A study by the University of Pennsylvania found that 85 percent of homeless people in Philadelphia who were given housing and support were still in housing two years later and were unlikely to become homeless again.
Research shows that people spend less time in expensive emergency rooms and hospital beds when they have housing. Children are able to attend school and do homework when they have a warm home, a bed to sleep in and a sturdy table to write on.

“It is a proven program. It works. And it’s been evaluated,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added, “Without question, supporting homeless families with services and housing saves money in the long run. It simply costs less to serve and house than it does to ignore. It’s an investment in our future.”

Click here for more information about Family Service Centers.

Homeless Advocate Named Woman of the Year

 

A hearty congratulations to Marsha Temple, executive director of the homeless advocacy agency, Integrated Recovery Network, who has been selected as the Second Supervisorial District’s Woman of the Year.

Temple was chosen by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas for her outstanding work helping homeless people reclaim their lives by finding housing, health care and jobs.

Temple, who is an attorney, has been an advocate for the homeless and homeless issues for years. In her work at the Integrated Recovery Network, she has championed the need to help mentally ill people released from the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, finding them housing, mental health services and addiction management so that with counseling, they can address the substance abuse and other issues and that threaten their stability and risk a return to jail.

 

She will join seven other women, selected by other members of the board of supervisors, who will be honored for their work bringing about social and economic change at a luncheon sponsored by the Los Angeles County Commission for Women on March 11.

“It is a huge honor to be chosen to represent the Second Supervisorial District as Woman of the Year for my work with the Integrated Recovery Network. So many people are working to find housing for people who are homeless, to provide access to medical and psychiatric care, to reduce recidivism rates, to help people who have been homeless find jobs,” said Temple.

“I dedicate this award to the staff of the Integrated Recovery Network. My colleagues work alongside me every day, creating opportunities for life-altering transformations of people who might not otherwise have the chance to lead dignified and productive lives.”  Temple has also served as past president of the Board of Directors of Homeless Health Care Los Angeles, the Board of Governors of Marina del Rey Hospital, as chair of the Board of Directors of the Venice Family Clinic and she is currently on the Board of Governors of Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital.

As an attorney for 20 years, Temple represented hospital clients in a variety of liability actions including medical and psychiatric malpractice, breach of contract and defended allegations of elder abuse.

The LA County Commission for Women champions many causes including employment, gender equity, promoting access to health care for women of all ages, ending violence against women and supporting legislation that positively impacts the lives of women.

“Marsha Temple exemplifies the selfless and tireless work that it takes to help the most challenged people in our society get back on their feet,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “She and her staff understand the importance of giving all human beings a chance to live a decent life and she richly deserves this honor .”

Supervisors Approve $15 Million More for Affordable Housing

Epworth Apartments on Normandie Avenue.  Photo courtesy of Los Angeles County.

Epworth Apartments on Normandie Avenue.  Photo courtesy of Los Angeles County.

The preservation and creation of affordable housing has been a longstanding goal of the county and its 88 cities, but the demise of redevelopment agencies delivered a blow to low-income residents struggling in one of the nation’s most difficult housing markets; the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles is $1,447 — far more than one-third of take-home pay for 40 percent of Angelenos.

Acting on a joint motion by Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Gloria Molina, the Board of Supervisors unanimously reaffirmed the county’s commitment to providing permanent housing for low-income residents, recently approving a motion to transfer $15 million to the Community Development Corporation for affordable housing in Los Angeles County.

Supervisors Molina and Ridley-Thomas had urged the board to set aside $75 million for five years, $15 million of which would be allocated this year, but voted to postpone allocating the remaining $60 million until the annual budget process begins — just a few weeks.

Both Supervisors Molina and Ridley-Thomas urged the balance of the board to dedicate the total amount available to affordable housing.

“I am advocating for and committed to affordable housing having top priority consideration for the use of these resources,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “On any given night in Los Angeles County, over 50,000 homeless individuals live on the streets. The majority have untreated illnesses or disabilities, so affordable housing can and must be the priority. It has implications for our communities and workforce dynamics.”

“I think what’s important is that this is not money that should be allocated in a different direction…I’m hoping we’re not going to layer this with all kind of other competing interests,” said Supervisor Molina.

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Hope Street Family Center courtesy of Abode Communities.

Affordable housing advocates cheered passage of the motion, noting the significant challenges they face since the dissolution of redevelopment agencies.

“The loss of redevelopment housing funds has had a significant impact on the production and preservation of affordable housing,” said affordable housing developer Robin Hughes, the president of Abode Communities committed to affordable housing communities in Los Angeles.

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In October of last year, acting on a joint motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved $11 million in funding for affordable housing projects that is expected to result in approximately 176 new units. Through the Community Development Commission’s work, the county has created over 10,000 affordable units.

“This funding is critically important to low income communities and people with special needs,” said Dora Gallo, chief executive of A Community of Friends, a nonprofit agency that develops affordable housing. “While other cities and counties are still trying to figure out what to do with the loss of redevelopment funds, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Molina have taken action.”

Homeless Count 2013

As the stars began to shine in the night sky Thursday, more than two dozen volunteers gathered around the table in the education room at Holman United Methodist Church in the West Adams neighborhood, eagerly waiting to hit the streets.

“We’re gonna get this done tonight, are we not?” said their site trainer Carolyn Fowler.

“Yes!” the group cheered.

The group was among the 5,000 volunteers who turned out in late January to participate in the 2013 Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s (LAHSA) biennial homeless count , which seeks to locate and count the men, women and children living in cars and tents, makeshift shelters or sleeping out in the open. During the four-day event, volunteers fanned out throughout Los Angeles County and covered more than 1,400 census tracts, making it the largest turnout ever in the biennial count’s fifth year history. Volunteers, who received training on how to identify homeless people and count them correctly without making assumptions about people who happened to be loitering or near makeshift shelter, were given pre-determined census tracts to canvass.

The count is essential for understanding and tracking how many people are living on the streets and what kind of services and housing will best help them in secure permanent shelter. In 2011, the effort revealed that more than 51,000 people in the county are homeless. In recent years, there has been a concerted effort by cities and the county to improve homeless services and become pro-active in getting people the help they need, said G. Michael Arnold, executive director of LAHSA.

“Local cities are really stepping up and trying to understand homelessness in their communities,” said Arnold. “They are trying to find solutions.”

Individuals, like Holman Senior Pastor, Rev. Kelvin Sauls, are also stepping up.

“We want to be with our brothers and sisters who happen to be homeless,” he said before the group began the count.

Ashley Wilson, who is making a documentary about the homeless, noted that homelessness is not a faraway concept in our society.
“It can happen to anyone,” she said.

Indeed, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas , who joined the group of volunteers in West Adams and Leimert Park, reminded volunteers that being homeless does not diminish a person’s right to compassion and care, saying, “We share a common belief that the dignity and worth of all people matters. They are God’s people and created in his image and likeness.”

The volunteers then fanned out across South Los Angeles until midnight, blanketing the area, using flashlights and maps to try to find homeless people living in parks, cars, trailers or alleys. Remnants of belongings, blankets, clothing, tents, bottles of vodka or beer, often were giveaways for encampments that had been temporarily abandoned. But by midnight, dozens of homeless people would appear in Leimert Park seeking safety in numbers under the brightly lit park palms.

As the Supervisor stood in night shadows of Leimert Park, an area that had suffered a long period of neglect but was redesigned when he was on the Los Angeles City Council in the 1990s, he noted the poignancy of seeing former classmates from his school days at Manual Arts High School, on the streets. Drug and alcohol dependency, mental illness or misfortune such as a health crisis or losing a home, play a large role in the downward spiral of many who never expect to find themselves sleeping out of doors, he said, adding, “It doesn’t get more real than this . These are members of our family, friends and associates, black, brown, yellow, red and white. This is sobering.”

As he ventured out of the park, a man who identified himself as A.J. approached. A.J., it turned out had been chronically homeless years ago and someone who Jeanette Rowe, director of homeless services for LAHSA, had met on the streets 20 years ago in Venice and Santa Monica.

Rowe, who was accompanying the Supervisor on the count, spoke of the long effort to help A.J. transition to indoor living.
“I tried so hard to get him into a shelter,” she recalled. “He told me how much he hated it and I said, ‘OK, you go back there and tell me tomorrow how much you hate it.’ After 90 days in the shelter, it is really hard to return to the street. You’ve lost your step.”

Today, A.J. has an apartment and is living with government assistance. He was selling recorders in the park and seemed to be doing well.

“Years ago, he was a mess,” said Rowe. And then as he walked away, giving her his telephone number, she smiled. One less person was on the street. She had done her job. “It is very rewarding to see that.”