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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.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas on receiving the National Foster Youth Institute’s 2017 Champion of Children and Youth Award

Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas with foster youth and Rep. Karen Bass, founder of the National Foster Youth Institute at its 3rd Annual Evening of Learning and Celebration, hosted by former City Councilmember Wendy Gruel and Dean Schramm. The nonprofit organization  mobilizes grassroots support to reform and strengthen the child welfare system, and to create a brighter future for America’s foster youth and their families. All photos by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors.

“Thank you Congresswoman Bass for that warm introduction and for this honor. I also want to thank Wendy and Dean for hosting this event and welcoming us.

“It has been my distinct pleasure to support and partner with this organization on behalf of the thousands of youth in Los Angeles County who are in, or have exited, the child welfare system.

“When the Board of Supervisors convened the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection in 2013, we learned how important it was to a child’s well-being for all involved stakeholders to work in a complementary manner to achieve the same goals. The Board approved the Commission’s recommendations in 2014. That same year, the National Foster Youth Institute was founded by the Hon. Karen Bass. We’ve been running on parallel tracks ever since, taking on issues of substance, and working in a complementary manner to achieve the same goals.

“We have worked to dismantle the commercial sexual exploitation of children – CSEC – and its disproportionate impact on foster youth. Sixty percent of all child sex trafficking victims have histories in the child welfare system. Let me repeat that – 60 percent. This is unacceptable. NFYI has been working with policymakers to pass legislation aimed at protecting these youth. In the County, we have prioritized the identification and recovery of youth who are being trafficked by establishing the First Responder Protocol, which decriminalizes young people who, in the rest of the nation, are being arrested for prostitution. Make no mistake: there is no such thing as a child prostitute.

“NFYI is also taking on the critical need for permanent and stable housing for current and former foster youth in order to combat homelessness, the defining moral issue of our time. An average of one out of every four youth in foster care will become homeless within four years of aging out of foster care. LAHSA reports that 48 percent of young people experiencing homelessness in the County self-identify as having been involved in the child welfare or Probation systems. The County’s Homeless Initiative and Measure H will be instrumental in providing housing and supportive services to this population. As many of you know, the Measure H ¼ cent sales tax went into effect last Sunday. This will provide $5 million this fiscal year for services for transition-age youth, and $19 million next fiscal year. Over the next 5 years, Measure H is expected to house 45,000 people and prevent another 30,000 from becoming homeless.

“Lastly, NFYI is investing in and lifting up our greatest asset: the youth themselves. In Los Angeles County, current and former foster youth organized by NFYI are weighing in on important matters that directly affect them. They are helping to write the County’s Foster Youth Bill of Rights and form a Foster Youth Advisory Council to DCFS, presenting recommendations to the Commission for Children and Families and the Board of Supervisors.

“One of the best ways for us to champion youth issues is for us, as adults, to step back and give voice and power to our future generations, and this organization is getting that right. In closing, I want to thank the Board of Directors and staff of NFYI, and all the partners here tonight fighting for vulnerable youth across LA and across this country. And most of all, I salute every young person who has survived the trauma of being removed from his or her family. We owe it to them to do everything in our power to ensure they have the brightest of futures. Thank you again for this honor.”

Rep. Karen Bass, founder of the National Foster Youth Institute, addresses the audience at the 3rd Annual Evening of Learning and Celebration.

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.

Reforming Probation

L-R: Community Coalition’s Patricia Guerra, Probation Commissioner Zach Hoover, Children’s Defense Fund’s Patricia Soung, and Homeboy Industries’ Ed Flynn, all testifying in support of the motion. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion aimed at improving transparency and accountability at the troubled Probation Department, saying reform efforts over the years have yet to yield substantial results. A vote is expected on October 17.

Co-authored by Supervisor Janice Hahn, the motion calls for creating a task force and/or enhancing the existing Probation Commission to synthesize the many existing recommendations for reform, develop a plan for implementing them, and submit it to the Board for approval.

Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

“Current efforts are fragmented, which could lead to inconsistencies,” Board Chairman Ridley-Thomas said. “We need a singular vision and a clear roadmap for reforming Probation, which has struggled for decades with excessive use of force by staff, mismanagement of funds, and a range of other issues.”

Supervisor Hahn added, “I look forward to moving ahead to create a Probation Department that professionally and compassionately leads our citizens towards productive lives in our communities.”

Several members of the public testified in support of the motion, including Probation Commissioner and retired Superior Court Judge Jan Levine. “Current reform efforts are important and laudable, but insufficient,” she said. “There must be continuous outside oversight of the Department by an independent body to ensure transparency, updating of policies, ongoing review of budgets and spending, continued tracking of outcomes, and the creation of a forum for families and other stakeholders to participate in an ongoing two-way exchange of information about policies and practices.”

“These are critical measures if we are to inspire trust as well as to be effective in efforts to actually help the individuals entrusted to the Probation system,” she added.

CalState LA Associate Dean Denise Hertz, one of the researchers called upon over the years to assess systemic problems at Probation and recommend changes, said, “This motion offers a tremendous opportunity to build a collaborative foundation from which best practices can be identified and implemented.”

Probation Commissioner Zach Hoover lauded the Board’s appointment of Probation Chief Terri McDonald and Deputy Chief Sheila Mitchell. Still, he added, “It’s clear to me that they need more wind at their back. They need the support of oversight to be able to truly transform the department. We’re not interested in reform; we’re interested in a transformation.”

A New Way of Life’s Tiffany Johnson, Urban Peace Institute’s Josh Green, and Californians for Safety and Justice’s Marisa Arona, all testifying in support of the motion. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors.