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.”