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Step Up to Fight Homelessness

Homeless person sleeping on the sidewalk with bags.

From Compton to Coronado, Long Beach to Lompoc, Santa Fe Springs to San Francisco, 115,000 people are homeless throughout California, many of them living in utter squalor in what’s supposed to be the Golden State.

That’s enough men, women and children to fill every seat at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, at Petco Park in San Diego and the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento—combined. And unless our leaders step up and take immediate and extraordinary action, this humanitarian crisis will only get worse.

To date, more than 25,000 people have petitioned Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency on homelessness. Many city and county officials in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and throughout California have urged the same, as have legislators in the state Assembly.

It is time for the state Senate to step up and make the same call to Governor Brown. And it is time for the governor to listen and then act. After all, if he can declare a state of emergency over a fruit fly infestation, doing the same for homelessness should be a no-brainer.

It would be a bold move, but not without precedent. Hawaii did it last year and again this year, with a homeless population of 7,000—less than one-tenth of those in California.

Indeed, California accounts for one in five of the entire nation’s homeless population, prompting U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein to send Governor Brown a letter last week, telling him, “It is clear that more must be done.”

Declaring a statewide emergency on homelessness could trigger the release of significant funding for rapid rehousing, rental subsidies and other desperately needed forms of assistance. That declaration would also provide immediate relief with the deployment of state personnel to help those in tent cities, and to establish command posts and triage sites for coordinating services.

This is a vital short-term fix which will help to address the most pressing concerns, while continuing to search for ongoing revenue sources that would build the housing and services infrastructure recommended by Los Angeles County’s sweeping Homeless Initiative.

I believe addressing homelessness is both a moral obligation and a practical necessity. Many caught in the grip of this humanitarian crisis are families with children, veterans and the working poor. Many struggle with stagnant wages, grossly inadequate housing stock, and skyrocketing rent – as much as $3,520 month for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, when the national median is only $1,120. In San Jose, the corresponding monthly rent is $2,180; Los Angeles, $1,940; and San Diego, $1,530.

It baffles me that a state of emergency can be declared for people temporarily displaced by an earthquake, wildfire or natural gas leak, but not for 115,000 people who are already homeless, living in unspeakable conditions and under peril of illness, violence and death. Leaving people unsheltered is costly to taxpayers, impacting law enforcement, health services, property values, and more.

The people have spoken, both by petitioning the governor and by responding in almost a dozen recent surveys that addressing homelessness is a top priority. They have even gone so far as to express an unprecedented willingness to tax themselves, if that’s what it would take to solve the problem.

Leaving no stone unturned in the search for funds to combat homelessness, Los Angeles city officials will ask voters in November to approve a $1.2-billion bond measure to build housing specifically for people who don’t have a decent place to live. Los Angeles county officials are considering imposing new taxes and selling advertising space on county buildings to close the homeless funding gap. These measures, however, will take time to generate revenue.

If the governor refuses to declare a state of emergency because he believes cities and counties should take the lead, it would be like withholding medicine from a desperately ill patient because the hospital hasn’t been built yet. Governor Brown must bring the state’s considerable resources to bear on this crisis– and now – in order to ease the suffering and despair of so many Californians and the communities of which they are a part.

Exposition Park Welcomes New Soccer Stadium

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Los Angeles County and City officials along with owners of the Los Angeles Football Club joined together with a few hundred soccer fans to break ground on a new stadium in Exposition Park. Designed by LA-based architectural firm Gensler, the new soccer-specific facility named Banc of California Stadium will be built on the site of the former Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena accommodating 22,000 fans and LA’s newest soccer franchise.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAFC owners including Los Angeles legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, actor and comedian Will Ferrell, inspirational life coach and entrepreneur Tony Robbins, entertainment and sports legend Peter Guber, business leader and LAFC Lead Managing Owner Larry Berg, Co-Managing Owners Bennett Rosenthal and Brandon Beck, and LAFC President Tom Penn, in celebrating the historic groundbreaking.

“The stadium project represents a tremendous investment in South Los Angeles, providing a major league boost to our economy,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

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IMG_0456The new development will bring more than $350 million in private investment to South Los Angeles including a commitment to 40 percent local hires and 35 percent minority business. The development will include a large public plaza, restaurants, retail store, and a conference and events center, serving as a sports, entertainment, civic, and cultural landmark for Los Angeles.

“We start here,” said Larry Berg, LAFC Lead Managing Owner. “After years of planning and hard work we are set to make history here in the heart of the city.”

“This world-class stadium,” said Peter Guber LAFC Executive Chairman and Owner, “Will be a state of the art venue featuring ‘state of the heart’ experiences for players, fans and artists.”

“Los Angeles is the sports and entertainment capital of the world, and today we open a new chapter in our rich history with the world’s most popular game,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“It has always been important for me to invest in projects that create and support jobs in communities that are often overlooked, especially here in Los Angeles. The shovels in the ground today mean real dollars are now flowing into this community, benefitting thousands of people,” said Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

“So I say to the LAFC, Welcome to Expo Park… Now let’s get to work!” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

The new major league soccer team is expected to begin play in 2018 at the new stadium.

Op-Ed: California is in a Homeless Crisis

Improving Police-Community Relations through Training

In wake of several high profile officer involved shootings alleging police misconduct locally and nationwide, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to take a look at whether Los Angeles County’s law enforcement agencies can do more to mitigate implicit racial bias. The motion, authored by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, was passed just a week after the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department admitted that an innocent black man was killed by a deputy in Compton following a pursuit and search for suspects. The motion aims to identify training that will successfully boost cultural competency and grow a cadet’s awareness of implicit bias.

“We are facing a crisis of confidence with our law enforcement agencies, particularly in communities of color,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “This is an unprecedented moment in the history of our nation,” the Supervisor said.

Over a dozen individuals testified in support of the motion at the board meeting and called for improved officer training. Among those in attendance was Gilbert Johnson, an organizer with Community Coalition and a life-long resident of South Los Angeles.

“The culture of the Sheriff’s Department must dramatically change to repair the damage to the Sheriff’s reputation in the community,” said Johnson.

The motion indicates that implicit racial bias can cause institutions or individuals to act on racial prejudices unknowingly, even in spite of good intentions and nondiscriminatory policies or standards.

“Bias in policing whether implicit or explicit is tremendously damaging to our society,” said Catherine Wagner, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California during her testimony before the board.

“We must challenge the insidious perception that criminal and dangerous are synonymous with black people and people of color,” said advocate Alex Johnson, the executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund of California.

The motion passed by the board recommends mandated law enforcement protocols and training to examine an individual’s limitations with cultural competency. For years, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has been providing forums to foster interaction between law enforcement officers and community members, such as a series of locally organized “National Night Out” events in early August 2016. Improved training has the potential to further support these interactions.

“Any training that gives law enforcement the ability to connect with the community is very worthwhile,” said Don Pedersen, Assistant Inspector General for Los Angeles County.

The motion seeks to look more broadly at public safety and seeks to identify any gaps that may exist in officer training that can serve as a model to improve public safety and minimize tragic encounters. The supervisors directed the Sheriff’s Department, representatives with the offices of Probation, Public Defender, District Attorney, Fire Department, Superior Court and the Los Angeles County Bar Association, and all public safety departments to report back in 45 days on training related to implicit bias. A second report on national best practices is expected within three months.

“Together, we will work to build a transparent system of law enforcement and become a national model for constitutional policing in the 21st century,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

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.

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