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.