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.

Exploring New Ways to Address Homelessness

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Avalon Apartments, a project funded through the Mental Health Services Act and developed by A Community of Friends. It has 37 affordable housing units for families.

Looking for new ways to address Los Angeles County’s crisis of homelessness, the Board of Supervisors called for an analysis of proposed state initiative that seeks to invest $2 billion to build permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless who are living with mental illness.

On January 4, California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon and a group of state senators announced they would pursue a legislative package dubbed “No Place Like Home.” Its key provision would repurpose Proposition 63 or Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) funding, leveraged with other local, state and federal funds, to secure construction bonds.

In a motion that won unanimous approval from the Board, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl called the initiative “a good first step.” Since many details of the initiative are still in the works, however, they added, “It is imperative that the County is at the table to fully vet this proposal to determine the impact to County residents.”

“We should do everything we can to make sure we get more, rather than less, from this effort,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas told the Board. “This will help us in our work of trying to lift up our community and restoring dignity and purpose to the lives of individuals who find themselves homeless.”

The County Department of Mental Health (DMH) already collaborates with the California Housing and Finance Agency to creatively utilize MHSA money, leveraging with federal, state, local and private funds. So far, these efforts have created more than 900 permanent supportive housing units for homeless persons living with mental illness, with another 175 units expected in the next two years.

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Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas greeting one of Avalon Apartments’ youngest tenants during the ribbon cutting ceremony in April 2015.

$2M More To Provide Homeless With Housing for Health

As El Niño begins to pummel Los Angeles County with winter storms, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas directed the transfer of an additional $2 million into a program that would quickly take homeless people off the streets and into housing with supportive services.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved his motion to transfer Second Supervisorial District Year Round funds allocated to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority into the Department of Health Services’ Housing for Health Program.

“It is urgent that we move homeless people – particularly women – off the streets and out of harm’s way as El Niño approaches,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Ramping up programs like Housing for Health, which have a track record of success, is critical in that effort.”

The County’s homeless population of 44,000 includes 5,000 women in the Second Supervisorial District who may be particularly vulnerable to violence, sexual predators and exploitation, and further trauma.

Ann-Sophie Morrissette, director of communications at the Downtown Women’s Center (DWC) in Skid Row, underscored the urgent need for shelter.

“We are deeply appreciative of this motion,” she testified before the Board. “It acknowledges that homeless women are in dire need, particularly at a time when we see services are stretched thin and we see environmental factors like El Nino.”

Teressa Percell, who received housing through the DWC after being homeless for 10 years, expressed hope that more women would be helped.

“At the DWC, there’s a woman that just came in without shoes, wet, looking like a ragamuffin,” she told the Board. “It’s so profound how many women – mothers, grandmothers, sisters – are homeless. I thank God today that I have a home at the DWC.”

Percell also thanked Supervisor Ridley-Thomas for donating a van to the DWC.

“That beautiful van is going to help us get around to the grocery store, to the doctor’s office,” she said. “I thank you so very much.”

Currently, Housing for Health offers permanent supportive housing to homeless people with complex physical and behavioral conditions that lead to frequent and lengthy visits to County hospitals at taxpayer expense.

The program provides shelter, as well as primary and recuperative care, mental health treatment, job training and other supportive services to help especially vulnerable people achieve better health, stability and independence, while also easing pressure on the public health system.

Under Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ motion, homeless people living in shelters or in the streets – regardless of diagnosis – would be eligible for permanent as well as interim housing under the Housing for Health program.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas donates a van to the Downtown Women’s Center in Skid Row. The keys are received by Francine Andrade, Anne Miskey and Teressa Percell. Ms. Miskey is the chief executive at DWC, while Ms. Andrade and Ms. Percell are formerly homeless women who have found housing through the DWC.

Affordable Housing in Arlington Square

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Arlington Square, an affordable housing complex, is set to rise in Arlington Heights.

Developed by the nonprofit A Community of Friends, it will have 47 units for homeless individuals living with mental illness, as well as disabled veterans and people living with HIV/AIDS.

It is located at 1553 S. Arlington Avenue and slated for completion in March 2017.

“At a time where there is a heightened urgency to address the homelessness crisis that permeates our communities, we need to lift up the solutions,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said during the groundbreaking ceremony. “And the solution is high quality housing with wrap-around services.”

image2Tenants can stay either in a 400-sq. ft. studio apartment or in a 500-sq. ft. one-bedroom apartment, all equipped with energy efficient appliances, and dining and bedroom furniture.

The four-story contemporary-style building will also have a community room, a television/lounge area, fitness center, picnic and barbecue area, laundry rooms, and a lushly landscaped courtyard.

Aside from those amenities, tenants can take advantage of supportive services, free of charge. They will have a case manager, services coordinator, life skills classes and group activities.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas stressed the need to continue taking people off the streets and into housing. Since taking office, he has supported the creation of 2,000 affordable housing units in the Second District alone, and 900 more units are in development.

He said the Board of Supervisors is committed to better leveraging County resources in the fight against homelessness.

“We’ve opened 1,600 winter shelter beds early to prepare for El Nino, and called for $15 million to rapidly rehouse over 500 adults and 275 homeless families,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “We’re also rolling out four ‘street engagement teams’ to house 200 individuals now living on Skid Row, and continuing to support the Housing for Health program, which takes frequent users of the County’s health facilities and places them into permanent housing.”
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Saving Public Housing in Athens-Westmont

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Credit: HACoLA

Hundreds of public housing tenants in South Los Angeles don’t have to worry about “For Sale” signs being posted at their rental homes and apartments.

Acting on a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board of Supervisors voted to keep 241 public housing units, also called the South Scattered Sites, as part of the county’s affordable housing stock.

His motion also called for prioritizing homeless families and victims of domestic violence when filling vacant units.

“The bottom line is that we are in the midst of a regionwide housing crisis – this is not the time to dispose of 241 units of affordable housing anywhere in the County of Los Angeles,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

The 241 units comprising the South Scattered Sites are on 38 different locations, and reserved for very low-income households. The Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (HACoLA) has been operating the units at a loss over the last several years because of insufficient federal funding.

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Credit: HACoLA

Recently, HACoLA considered selling the units for $32 million to a nonprofit organization or another buyer, and use the proceeds to build 126 new affordable housing units concentrated in no more than three locations.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, however, expressed concern about further shrinking the affordable housing stock in a county where the homeless population has risen 12 percent over the last two years.

His motion, approved by a 3-1 vote, called on the county CEO to find the funding needed to cover the South Scattered Sites’ $425,000 annual operating deficit, as well as the $6 million needed for repairs and renovations over the next five years. The motion also called for aggressively pursuing federal funds to reimburse those expenses.

Credit: HACoLA

Credit: HACoLA