More than 200 leaders, advocates, and youth packed Holman United Methodist Church in West Adams recently to discuss potential solutions for ending youth homelessness in South Los Angeles. This group, the South Los Angeles Homeless and Foster Youth Collaborative, took the lead on fostering community dialogue and organizing the breakfast to unveil the “Homeless No More Community Plan.”
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, 8,713 homeless are under the age of 24 and 4,046 are between the ages of 18-24. South Los Angeles has the second highest concentration with 2,016 youth, representing 23 percent of the homeless youth population in Los Angeles County.
In response to the need for strategic interventions to lower these numbers, leaders, advocates, and youth formed the collaborative to find solutions. A year ago, after the collective’s first summit, the idea of a community plan was conceived to better understand the problems foster youth face and potential solutions to youth homelessness in South Los Angeles.
“No single organization is responsible for any major social problem, nor can any single organization cure it,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
Latrina Wilcher, 26, was born in South Los Angeles. She was at the Holman organizing breakfast to work as a caterer, and shared her story of homelessness. Wilcher said she was taken away from her mother when she was two-years-old, and after passing through a series of group and foster homes, she became homeless.
“When you turn 18, they kick you out,” she said. “But it takes time to get back on your feet especially when you’ve had a horrible childhood.”
Luckily, she met Janet Kelly, the executive director of Sanctuary of Hope and the co-founder of the collaborative. Kelly helped enroll Wilcher in a mentorship program and start her own catering business.
For the past year, with support from the Office Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, leaders from across business, law enforcement, government, health, academic, interfaith, philanthropic and non-profit sectors as well as former homeless youth engaged in a series of meetings and committed themselves to identifying a plan to prevent vulnerable youth from becoming homeless. The meetings resulted in the “Homeless No More” community plan, a roadmap to move forward in the years ahead.
“Our youth may be homeless, but they are not hopeless,” said Reverend Kelvin Sauls, the pastor of Holman United Methodist Church and the chair of the collaborative.
The collaborative identified six strategic objectives to be implemented by 2019:
- Improve the coordination of services, simplify access, and eliminate barriers
- Increase and improve housing options for homeless youth in South LA.
- Coordinate and enhance critical support systems and services targeting homeless TAY and foster care youth.
- Improve public policies and systems that address or omit homeless and at-risk youth.
- Produce and compile data and research that best describes the opportunities, needs, and gaps of homeless and at-risk youth in the South LA region.
- Expand leadership, collaborative will, and service capacity of South South LA service providers, the faith-based community, community leaders and Transitions Age Youth.
“This plan provides hope for a community that has lacked resources,” said Gerald Thompson, co-founder and director of the collaborative.
“Our young people deserve permanent solutions such as housing, access to a shower, clean clothes, and career opportunities. This is a bold step forward, but much work remains to deliver those solutions,” the Supervisor said.
According to LAHSA Commissioner Booker Pearson, 70% of individuals in California prisons were in foster care at one time. Prison costs an average of about $47,000 per year per inmate in California.
“Think it’s cheaper to house a kid then let him go to foster care and wind up in prison?” Pearson asked rhetorically. “This is not only the right and moral thing to do. It’s economic suicide to ignore our homeless children.”
For more information, visit the collective’s website at www.southlatay.org.