CNN: Staggering homeless count stuns LA officials


Reposted from CNN.com.


The stunning increase in homelessness announced in Los Angeles this week — up 16% over last year citywide — was an almost incomprehensible conundrum given the nation’s booming economy and the hundreds of millions of dollars that city, county and state officials have directed toward the problem.

But the homelessness crisis gripping Los Angeles is one that has been many years in the making with no easy fix. It is a problem driven by an array of complex factors, including rising rents, a staggering shortage of affordable housing units, resistance to new shelters and housing developments in suburban neighborhoods, and, above all, the lack of a cohesive safety net for thousands of people struggling with mental health problems, addiction and, in some cases, recent exits from the criminal justice system that have left them with no other options beyond living on the streets.

“It is the height of contradiction that in the midst of great prosperity across the Golden State, we are also seeing unprecedented increases in homelessness,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, a key proponent of the 2017 county sales tax known as Measure H that is raising about $355 million annually for homelessness services over ten years.

CNN Reporter Maeve Rueston interviews Supervisor Ridley-Thomas at Tiki Apartments. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

“This data is stunning from the perspective that we had hoped that things would be trending differently, but we will not ignore our realities,” Ridley-Thomas said after the numbers were released. “No one can ignore the income insecurity, the financial stress that is being experienced throughout the population. … This is a state that is the wealthiest in the nation, and, at the same time, it is the most impoverished.”

The new homeless count released Tuesday by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority showed nearly 59,000 people living in the streets across Los Angeles County, a 12% increase over the prior year; and 36,300 homeless people within the city limits of LA, a 16% increase over last year’s count.

Playground at Mosaic Gardens in Willowbrook. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

While those figures were shocking to many Americans who view Los Angeles mainly as a city of glittering wealth, they came as less of a surprise to millions of Angelenos.

For several years now, the city’s residents have watched tent encampments spring up far beyond the downtown area known as Skid Row — where LA’s homeless population and services have historically been concentrated — to their neighborhood sidewalks, freeway embankments, city and county parks, along business corridors and into some of the most affluent neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

Beyond the well-being of the city’s homeless population, the encampments have raised a broad array of public heath and safety concerns. Los Angeles Fire Department officials determined, for example, that the massive Skirball blaze that burned homes in Bel-Air and torched the hillsides along the 405 freeway in December 2017 was sparked by a cooking fire at a homeless encampment nearby.

In and around Skid Row, scores of business owners who warehouse their goods in that industrial area downtown have pressed the city to do more about the rising number of tent fires. In one of the most frightening developments, some of the fires are being lit by gang members who try to collect rent from tent-dwellers on certain blocks, according to law enforcement officials and homeless people living in tents interviewed by CNN.

 

 

Magnolia Housing Program Offers Second Chances

All photos by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

A newly opened supportive housing project in the heart of Koreatown offers men exiting the criminal justice system a real chance at turning their lives around.

Far too often, people coming out of jail face an uphill battle finding a job, a place to live, or both. With the Anti-Recidivism Coalition’s (ARC) Magnolia Housing Program, 22 men who recently emerged from the Division of Juvenile Justice or prison now have keys to their new home, as well as an opportunity to receive job training with guaranteed apprenticeships in the building and construction trades.

ARC Founder Scott Budnick and Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas welcome a tenant to the Magnolia Housing Program

“Today, we celebrate the Magnolia Housing Program, a perfect blend of innovation and common sense,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Successful reintegration after a period of incarceration is not easy, but organizations like ARC are helping those who made a mistake, paid their dues and are trying to get back on their feet.”

“We look forward to bright futures for each tenant entering these doors,” he added.

One resident is already enrolled in the Metro Rail Mechanics program at Los Angeles Trade Technical College. Another just joined the plumbers union and is working full time. All of the current residents are working and 85 percent are enrolled in school.

ARC founder and president Scott Budnick said, “Offering stable housing, pathways to employment, mentorship and counseling services instills hope for deserving young men and women and ultimately creates safer and healthier communities.”

Founded in 2013, ARC provides a supportive network and reentry services to formerly incarcerated individuals, and advocates for fair and just policies in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. The Magnolia Housing Program is modeled after ARC’s Bromont Housing Program, which saw 76 percent of its participants employed after their second year of residence, and a recidivism rate of only 6 percent.

At Magnolia, 22 men will live in a newly renovated house, with mentorship on-site. Los Angeles Trade Technical College and the LA County Federation of Labor created a first-of-its-kind training program that will help them secure lasting career opportunities. Other members of the collaborative include the LA County Probation Department and the LA/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council.

“The Magnolia Housing Program is an ‘uncommon common sense’ approach to fighting recidivism,” said grateful resident Steven Parker. “It’s been an awesome experience,” said Emiliano Lopez, another Magnolia resident. “I get to share space with a lot of people who are enthusiastic and want to better their lives.”

In addition to supporting the Magnolia Housing Program, Los Angeles County is committed to doing more to help provide second chances to those who have already paid their debt to society. Chairman Ridley-Thomas, in collaboration with Supervisor Hilda Solis, plans to present a motion July 11 to establish a comprehensive Fair Chance Ordinance. If passed, it will create an outreach campaign and enhance training and curriculum for populations that have been excluded from the workforce, including those with felony convictions.

Venturing into Skid Row for the Homeless Count

Vowing to address what he called the “defining civil rights issue of our time,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas ventured into Skid Row on the final night of the 2016 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count to help estimate the number of people living on the streets or in temporary shelters.

“We are faced with a homeless crisis that is the product of decades of structural deficits in affordable housing, employment and community investment,” he said in a press conference at the Los Angeles Mission before canvassing a three-block neighborhood dotted with makeshift tents. “We can’t give up on this fight – we can’t and we won’t.”

During this year’s Count, more than 7,500 volunteers canvassed almost 2,000 census tracts spanning about 95 percent of Los Angeles County over two nights and a day. Conducted by the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), it is the most exhaustive survey of the local homeless population – second only to the US Census in size and scope.

The Count provides an estimate of the number of people staying in emergency shelters and transitional housing, as well as those living in places not meant for human habitation, such as vehicles, parks, sidewalks and abandoned buildings.  The data is used to develop a better understanding of the demographics and needs of the homeless population, and to secure funding that would help them secure permanent housing and support services.

“It’s the human spirit inside of us that says, ‘Let’s help our brothers and sisters out,'” said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who also volunteered for the Count along with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson.

Last year’s Count estimated the homeless population countywide at 41,174 – a 12 percent increase from 2013. Skid Row alone accounts for almost 4,000, and 2,500 of them live within the boundaries of the Second District.

Altogether, one in three homeless persons throughout Los Angeles County can be found in the Second District.

“We must and we will confront this issue head-on if we are to make any inroads,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “I am morally outraged by the statistics – that is why I feel such a sense of urgency.”

He has taken a three-pronged approach to addressing homelessness:

  • Building strong and coordinated crisis response systems that are comprehensive, inclusive and evidence-informed
  • Creating affordable housing with, if necessary, supportive services such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, and job training and placement, in partnership with community-based organizations
  • Increasing access to income by raising wages and spurring economic development that creates jobs easily accessible through public transit

Last summer, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Solis to fund and create four outreach teams just for Skid Row. Composed of County health professionals, LAHSA outreach workers and formerly homeless persons, the teams try to connect the homeless to County-funded medical, mental health and substance use services and supportive housing.

The County is also funding rapid rehousing subsidies and services for homeless persons who can be connected to employment or other sources of income and become stable after a shorter period of assistance. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ office has also dedicated funds for homeless women on Skid Row, to ensure they are taken off the streets and out of harm’s way as quickly as possible, and into stable housing.

The County is in the midst of preparing a comprehensive plan for addressing the crisis of homelessness, and recently held public hearings to solicit community input.

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Celebrating Innovative Housing for the Homeless

15295253018_0130f1b7f6_z (1)Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas awarded a scroll recognizing an honor bestowed upon the Skid Row Housing Trust, whose Star Apartments project made it to TIME Magazine’s list of the 25 Best Inventions of 2015.

“Enhancing the pipeline of quality affordable housing for all residents, especially our most vulnerable, has become one of the most pressing issues of our time,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “The homeless crisis that exists in Los Angeles County requires a bold new vision and Star Apartments is a defining example of what can and must be done.”

TIME Magazine noted that most housing projects for the homeless tend to look like warehouses but that’s not the case with Star Apartments, designed by architect Michael Maltzan.

Completed in 2014 along a border of Skid Row, it features 102 prefabricated studios ingeniously stacked atop a medical clinic on the ground floor, as well as a Health and Wellness Center with a garden and outdoor running track on the second floor.

The Trust’s CEO Mike Alvidrez said Star Apartments represents “tremendous innovation happening in our own backyard.” He added, “We are happy to be able to effectuate solutions to homelessness right here in Los Angeles County to the admiration of the rest of the country.”

A nonprofit organization, the Trust is one of the largest providers of permanent supportive housing in Southern California, maintaining more than 1,800 units at 26 locations. It built Star Apartments with support from the public and private sectors, including $400,000 in funding from the Office of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

Star Apartments serves as the headquarters of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services’ Housing for Health program, which identifies frequent users of the public health system and puts them in permanent supportive housing. By putting a roof over their heads, and providing them with much-needed medical and psychiatric care, the program helps people avoid multiple costly trips to the E.R. and enables them to attain greater levels of stability, independence and economic security.

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Second District Strategizes How to Help Homeless

image4Just prior to the deadline to provide feedback for Los Angeles County’s Homeless Initiative, nearly 100 community members and homeless experts attended a meeting at Exposition Park to learn more and offer feedback on strategies to prevent homelessness in the Second District of Los Angeles County.

“Our community can be no stronger than its most vulnerable residents,” said Los Angeles County Second District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

More than 44,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles County. The second district has the highest proportion with about one out of every three homeless persons living in the Second Supervisorial District—over 14,000 men, women and children.

“We cannot do this alone. It will take a collective effort of government agencies, elected officials, faith leaders, academic leaders, community based organizations and concerned individuals,” the Supervisor said.

image1Los Angeles County has provided more than 40 draft strategies to combat growing homelessness across the region. The recommendations represent the most comprehensive effort ever undertaken by the county to attack the root causes of homelessness and lift thousands of people off the street.

“This is a historic opportunity homelessness throughout LA County,” said Phil Ansell, Director of the Homeless Initiative for Los Angeles County.

The Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative was launched on August 17, 2015 to generate coordinated strategies to reduce homelessness through an intensive, inclusive planning process. In February 2016, the process will culminate in consideration by the Board of Supervisors.