Supervisor Shows Support for New Federal Sex Trafficking Bill

Girl Traff

I would like to commend Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) for authoring the Combat Human Trafficking Act, which was introduced recently in the United States Senate. The bill seeks to penalize adults who buy sex from trafficking victims and strengthen victim’s rights. While many federal, state and local efforts have focused mainly on prosecuting the traffickers, it is time we start looking at the buyers who fuel this crime. After all, sex trafficking is a demand-driven industry.

The Combat Human Trafficking Act would ensure that federal law enforcement officials are properly trained to investigate and then prosecute these buyers. It also views those who are being trafficked for what they are: exploited women and children-not criminals.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that up to 83 percent of sex trafficking victims are American citizens, and the average victim is first trafficked between ages 12 and 14.There are few topics more disturbing than the buying and selling of children for sex. Unfortunately, our society is still misinformed about this issue. Many still refer to it as prostitution. But, this is modern day slavery and a multi-billion dollar industry driven by unscrupulous adults.

We must put an end to this notion that people—mostly women, girls and boys—are commodities to be bought and sold. This bill will help protect victims while punishing the adults who profit and derive enjoyment from this despicable trade.

Helping Former Inmates Re-Enter Society Successfully

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Helping former inmates re-enter society and avoid going back to jail can be challenging unless they receive support and services from agencies with proven track records.

And so, Los Angeles County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe authored a plan to identify multi-year funding and develop a competitive bidding process for agencies that work with this population and have demonstrated success in keeping them from re-offending.

“Our county needs proven service providers to continue doing the work they do,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “The county benefits from their work and so we need to support them in a consistent and equitable way that takes into account the successful models they use. Reducing recidivism is important for public safety, it is cost effective and it is humane.”

Many individuals who have been incarcerated for violent, gang related crime are more likely to go back to jail upon their release because many have themselves been victims of violence in their communities and within their own families; most have spent time in the County’s foster care system and juvenile detention facilities; and they have significant substance abuse and mental health issues that make it difficult to transition well into a productive life.

However, there are promising service models out there that have had success in preventing recidivism. For example, a report from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) that studied the non-profit, gang intervention organization, Homeboy Industries, noted that Homeboy’s holistic approach to helping ex-offenders with job referrals, mental health counseling, housing options and skills training in an easy one-stop shop, has been largely successful. However, that model does not neatly fit into the requirements for government funding.

The Board of Supervisors has asked the Chief Executive’s office to work with the Department of Probation and County Counsel report back early next year with the best method to continually fund organizations that have proven to be successful.

Los Angeles County Supports City of LA in Supreme Court Case

Los Angeles County is backing the City of Los Angeles in its effort to crack down on motels and hotels that are magnets for criminal activity, including child sex trafficking.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors agreed to join in an amicus brief in support of the city in a case that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Los Angeles v Patel will determine if the Los Angeles Police Department can check motel registries on demand or penalize motel owners for refusing to cooperate without allowing the motel owner a chance contest the inspection before a judge. In December, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, ruled against the city, saying the ordinance violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches.

Law enforcement agencies throughout the county have witnessed the use of these motels to facilitate the sale of children for sex along prostitution tracks. At least 70 cities across the nation, including Atlanta, Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle, have similar laws. Courts in other parts of the country have upheld similar laws.

With ordinances like this, traffickers, predators and drug dealers are less likely to use these motels if they know guest information can be made available to police on a moment’s notice. The prevalence of the internet is pushing the sale of commercial sex from the streets, behind the doors of motels and hotels.

The buying and selling of women and children for sex is a multi-billion industry increasingly run by gangs. These women and children are subjected to extremely violent and traumatic acts that too often result in death at a young age.

“While we recognize the need to respect the 4th amendment and we must keep a vigilant eye on potential abuse, these surprise guest-register inspections play an important role in cleaning up neighborhoods that have been living under the threat of violence, drug dealing and blight that many of these motels perpetuate,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-authored the motion with Supervisor Don Knabe. “We are in solidarity with the City of Los Angeles in their efforts to keep blight out of our communities.”

Star Housing Apartments Offers New Life on Skid Row

Jude Burns stood in awe among the hundreds of people who turned out recently to celebrate the opening of the Star Apartments, a 100 unit supportive housing site for the homeless. Once homeless, bereft after the death of his only son and severely disabled, Burns got a new lease on life when he was given a place to live at the Star Apartments.  Finding a home and stability gave him the will to live.

“It’s wonderful.  Everything is here- the kitchen, the patio, the counselors. I have a new refrigerator and bed.   I’ve been talking to a therapist here to help me with the loss of my son,” Burns said.  “Without this place I don’t know where I would be.  The people here are family.  We all came from different walks of life, have different stories and just fell on hard times.”

At the celebration, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose office invested $400,000 into the project, applauded the innovative and collaborative partnerships between private and public organizations to create Star Apartments, who frequently use emergency healthcare services such as hospitals and urgent carecenters.

“Everyone deserves to live in housing that it safe and affordable,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.  “Residents here at Star not only have a safe place to call home but they are also able to receive medical, social and recreational services on site.”

Located on 6th Street and Maple Avenue, along the border of Skid Row, the building is owned by the Skid Row Housing Trust and houses a Department of Health Services primary care clinic on the ground level that specializes in providing integrated health care services to homeless people and Star residents and the department’s Housing for Health offices with residential units above.  Philanthropic and financial organizations also funded the Star Apartments, the first supportive housing project in Los Angeles with 100 percent of its residents referred by the Department of Health Services.

Designed by notable architect Michael Maltzan, the six floor, 98,000- square-foot- LEED platinum certified building is made of prefabricated residences that were placed on top of a concrete superstructure. Formerly an elevated parking garage, the building includes track, a garden patio community kitchen, community garden and lounge for the tenants.

Robert Newman, Skid Row Housing Trust property supervisor of Star apartments hopes that Star will be a life changing experience for all its tenants.

“All of us have bumps in the road,” Newman said. “We want people to have a chance to get back on their feet and become productive citizens.”

New Plan to End Youth Homelessness Unveiled

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, former foster youth & owner of Sweet Tri Pastries

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.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas speaks at unveiling of “Homeless No More Community Plan”

“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.

Board Approves $20 Million for Diversion

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The Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted to set aside $20 million to fund mental health services, substance abuse treatment, job counseling, as well as supportive housing for mentally ill offenders as an alternative to incarceration.

“We know that jail is not the best place to treat the mentally ill and substance abusers,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who sponsored the motion setting aside the funds. “Jail only makes the mentally ill sicker, and this County has not been able to figure out how to keep them stabilized and healthy in an environment that only makes them worse.”

The mentally ill are jailed at higher rates than others, and those numbers are outpacing the County’s ability to properly treat them. Diversion, or rerouting mentally ill offenders to treatment instead of incarceration, is intended to stabilize them and reduce the likelihood of recidivism. Many of the mentally ill people that wind up in County jails have co-occurring disorders and are homeless.

“Unnecessarily jailing people with mental illness is not only expensive, because they can be treated for a fraction of the cost using community-based programs, but it is also harsh and insensitive, and dare I say, inhumane,” the Supervisor said. “Having an untreated mental illness should not be a crime.”

The County of Los Angeles has been under a Memorandum of Agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice since 2002 and could face a consent decree because the jails were not designed to accommodate or deliver treatment to inmates with severe mental illnesses.

Today, the Board of Supervisors joined with District Attorney Jackie Lacey, County mental and public health departments and the Sheriff’s Department as a financial partner committed to diversion. In 2015, the board will vote on whether to build a $2 billion jail. By setting aside $20 million in a separate fund pending receipt of the District Attorney’s report, the Board has expressed a commitment to righting this wrong.

In the Second Supervisorial District efforts to expand diversion are already underway. The MLK Mental Health Urgent Care Center opened its doors earlier this month on the Martin Luther King Medical Campus. The center is a one-stop shop for families, individuals and law enforcement to bring a person suffering acute distress or an episode related to mental illness. Patients will receive a variety of services including psychiatric evaluation and assessment, crisis intervention, substance abuse counseling and medication support from an on-site team of experts from the county’s departments of mental health, social services, health services and public health.

For more information on the MLK Mental Health Urgent Care Center, please visit:

http://ridley-thomas.lacounty.gov/index.php/mlk-mental-health/

My Health LA to Enroll More Residents

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With an estimated 400,000 people in Los Angeles County unable to qualify for health coverage under the federal; Affordable Care Act, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and St. John’s Well Child and Family Center have moved to provide free health care for those still in need.

The My Health LA program, which launches October 1, is a no-cost health care program through 164 community partner clinics for low-income residents of Los Angeles County who do not have health insurance. The program, which received $61,000 in funding from Los Angeles County, has evolved from a two decade-long partnership between LA County and local community clinics and health centers. Patients will receive primary care services at clinics, such as health screenings, physicals, chronic disease management, and prescription medications. Specialty care and more acute services will be provided by LA County’s Department of Health Services.

“My Health LA demonstrates the commitment of Los Angeles County to expand health coverage to the uninsured and to ensure access to care for the most vulnerable among us,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Every person living in Los Angeles deserves access to health care and we will not stop until this is achieved. We need health care for all.”

By giving access to medical care for all residents, patients can treat their symptoms early on in their illness and avoid much more expensive emergency care later on. In addition, diagnosing certain contagious illnesses at their onset is increasingly important to contain them quickly.

Since January, hundreds of thousands of people in California have enrolled in the Affordable Care Act. In addition, free medical, dental and vision services recently were made available to thousands through the fifth annual Care Harbor Free Clinic.

St. John’s Chief Executive Jim Mangia noted that the center, which offers primary care services and supportive services to address families’ educational, socio-economic, and mental health needs, will not turn anyone away.

Sister Dolores Riojas of St. Thomas Church in Los Angeles said many of her parishioners were lacking in healthcare.

“We thank Supervisor Ridley-Thomas for the leadership he has provided in helping working families,” she said. “Now they will be getting treated early on.”

Click here to find a clinic near you. Participants should call the clinic to make an appointment to enroll and to make sure the clinic is taking new patients.

Anti-Sex Trafficking Campaign Begins

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST), Polaris, Clear Channel Outdoor, Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe and Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson to announce an awareness campaign against human trafficking in the greater Los Angeles area.

The campaign, which is featured on 25 digital billboards, 20 traditional billboards and 20 transit shelter posters throughout Los Angeles County,  includes the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s 24-hour, multi-lingual hotline for victims and community members. The hotline is operated by Polaris and the ad space was donated by Clear Channel.

HS4_0160“I would like to commend Clear Channel Outdoor, Polaris and CAST for helping combat sex trafficking in our communities,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “We need everyone to take notice. These billboards will help spread the word, will educate and raise awareness so that victims know they are not alone and that there is a way out.”

Human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing criminal activity – generating an estimated $150-billion a year. The crime has forced approximately 20.9 million people worldwide to live in modern day slavery, including hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children here in the United States. Los Angeles has become a top hub for modern slavery and human trafficking, making the fight to end the crime locally County important on a national scale.

“These young men and women are somebody’s sons and daughters,” said Buck, of CAST.   “As a community we need to look out for them.”

Polaris and Clear Channel Outdoor have forged a national partnership previously. Beginning in Philadelphia in 2012, the two organizations have since supported campaigns with various anti-trafficking organizations in Baltimore, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee, New Jersey, New York, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, and across the entire state of Texas.  In addition, they formed a partnership two years ago with County Supervisor Don Knabe and the MTA for their first anti-human trafficking campaign in L.A. This marks the second anti-human trafficking supported by Supervisor Knabe and Clear Channel this year.

“It is important that all Los Angeles County residents learn to recognize the signs of human trafficking and do their part to report and combat this horrific crime,” said Supervisor Knabe

Terry Crews, Polaris Ambassador, actor, and former NFL player said that education also needs to happen among the public—especially men who fuel the demand.

“We must change the mindset that allows trafficking to continue,” he said.

To get help or to report a suspected instance of human trafficking, please call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733). Hotline Call Specialists are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to take reports from anywhere in the country related to potential trafficking victims, suspicious behaviors, and/or locations where trafficking is suspected to occur.

County Unveils Pilot Program to Combat Sex Trafficking

Los Angeles County is moving forward to strengthen the safety net for children who have been victims of sex trafficking. After two years of work, county departments are working together to provide wraparound services for these young people.

“It is our job to protect our children,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “And we will not empower sick unscrupulous pimps and johns who buy and sell children on our streets to criminalize our children as prostitutes. Our children are victims needing our support.”

1MZ_0150The Supervisor joined Board Chairman Don Knabe and representatives of multiple county departments to unveil the first Los Angeles County pilot program to establish a first responder protocol for sex trafficking victims.

Where once young people picked up on sex-related charges were treated as “prostitutes,” both supervisors, emphasized that no child should be given the label.

“Changing the culture, especially in government, can be very difficult, as we all know,” Supervisor Knabe said, adding “but these girls, who may be a neighbor or may be a relative are being tortured with physical and sexual abuse.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation determined that Los Angeles is one of the nation’s 13 high intensity child prostitution areas, and it is estimated that, 3,000 children in the region are victims of trafficking. T average age these young people are forced or coerced onto the streets is between 12 and13 years-old, and increasingly, sex trafficking is a highly lucrative business run by gangs.

1MZ_0141With the new protocol in place, it is the county’s goal to see that underage victims of sex trafficking no longer are arrested, detained and released in what is often an unending cycle. With the paradigm shift, it is the goal of law enforcement, mental health officials, child protection agencies to surround the victim with care and treatment, ensuring, for example, that they are placed in a safe housing, enrolled in school and given proper physical and mental health services. And the program is only the first of many steps that will be coming to help these children.

The board of supervisors will receive quarterly updates on the results of the new system.

“The pilot is an important first step that establishes a strong response team that will be individualized—treating the needs of each victim, one child at a time,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “What we truly hope is that it creates a bond of trust between these children and the adults who do care about their welfare and have their best interests at heart. With trust, these children can heal. As they heal, they can begin to rebuild their young lives.”

Supervisors Approve Blue Ribbon Commission Recommendations

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Hoping to dramatically improve the child welfare system in Los Angeles County, the Board of Supervisors agreed to move forward on the recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection.

In particular, the board moved ahead with a key recommendation to establish an Office of Child Protection with a director, which would oversee all of the county agencies that are involved in the child welfare system. The motion supporting the commission’s recommendations was authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina. It establishes a transition team that will provide formal advice to the Board regarding recommendations for child safety until the new Office of Child Protection is created.

The transition team, which will begin meeting monthly starting July 1, will have nine members who are experts in child welfare issues and will include five members chosen by the Board of Supervisors, a representative from the Blue Ribbon Commission, Juvenile Court, the County’s Chief Executive Office and the Los Angeles County Commission for Children and Families.

After hearing testimony from committee members in front of a packed board room, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who authored the original motion last year to create the Blue Ribbon Commission, was optimistic structural reform could finally occur.

“The Blue Ribbon Commission has made it clear in their recommendations that the Los Angeles County child welfare system is in a ‘state of emergency,’” said the Supervisor. “Today is the day to adopt the Blue Ribbon Commission recommendations. This is a concept whose time has come.”

Supervisor Molina noted that too much time has passed without true change.

“The recommendations are all feasible and practical and most importantly they will improve child safety’” she said “We can’t wait any longer. We must act now.”

Established in June 2013, the Blue Ribbon Commission came on the heels of the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, who died last year as a result of horrific injuries from abuse. The commission, chaired by David Sanders, of the Casey Family Programs foundation, was made up of 10 child welfare experts appointed by each member of the Board of Supervisors.

They spent months interviewing officials and child advocates on how to improve the system and made 40 recommendations. Some of the recommendations include giving more money to relatives who care for children in foster care, providing better medical care for children removed from their homes and improving medical screening of infants who may be at risk.

Nearly a dozen foundations, several churches, advocates and organizations were present at the board hearing in support of the recommendations.

“This report looked beyond the frontlines of emergency response and included the safety of children,” said Janis Spires, chief executive of the Alliance for Children’s Rights. “It included mental health and child development needs and the need to support relatives who are the backbone of the child welfare system. We can’t put a short term price tag on protecting children in this county.”

Commissioner Leslie Gilbert Lurie urged the board to adopt all of the recommendations, rather than piecemeal.

“It is critical that the report be viewed by you holistically,” she said. “So that we can begin the process of sustainable reform.”

Click here for the final report from the Blue Ribbon Commission.