Bringing Help to People Living in Cars

Often, the word “homeless” calls to mind a person, usually a man, living on the street. But many times, people–often families–with nowhere else to turn they survive the elements by moving their cars to residential streets and living in there in those neighborhoods. Hoping to re-create a successful program to place homeless individuals in permanent housing, the non-profit St. Joseph Center this month will begin reaching out to people living in their vehicles in the Rancho Dominguez area of Los Angeles County.

As part of this program, funded by the office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the St. Joseph Center will seek out people living in vehicles and offer them services, such as help treating substance abuse or finding a job, to help them improve their lives.

According to the Los Angeles Housing Authority, more than 8,000 people live in their cars in Los Angeles County.  Many people retreat to living in their cars for a variety of reasons: they cannot afford to rent or buy in Los Angeles, are unemployed or are simply down on theirkid luck.

The St. Joseph’s team will include a clinician who will assess and treat individuals with mental health and/or substance abuse issues. The team will also help people living in their cars create independent living goals, including employment skills and training. In addition, eligible individuals may be able to secure permanent housing with the use of short-term rental assistance and services that will help them transition within four months.

The St. Joseph Center has worked to improve the lives of working poor families and homeless individuals in the Los Angeles area since 1976, providing a variety of services to homeless people such as rapid re-housing assistance, mental health and substance abuse treatment, transportation assistance, independent living skills training and permanent housing placement.

“This approach is one that works toward a long-end goal, which is getting people in permanent housing,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “The only way to sufficiently put a dent on this problem of chronic homelessness is to give people the services they need to get back on their feet. This program is one that makes sense and will help those individuals as well as address concerns in neighborhoods where these vehicles are parked.”

Formerly Homeless Find Affordable Housing

For seven years, Irvin Dixon, 59, had been homeless in Los Angeles County.  He slept on public benches and waited in long lines for free meals.  Sal Tovar, 52, had spent nine years homeless.  He remembers taking “bird baths” in the park to stay clean.  But thanks to a collaboration among the city, county and several community groups, 56 new units that rent for about $50 a month are home to nearly 100 other residents such as Dixon and Tovar.

Addressing an audience assembled recently to mark the opening of the South Los Angeles Supportive Housing Program,  Yolanda Vera, deputy for healthcare services for Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, said: “This is an example of blight made right.”

The Department of Health Services Neighborhood Stabilization Project Housing development consists of 15 formerly-blighted properties.  The properties were purchased and remodeled by the City of Los Angeles Housing Department and Restore Neighborhoods Los Angeles and are now operated by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.  The project is a collaborative partnership among the city, the county, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, Home for Good and the Hilton Foundation.

The new housing is aimed to help those homeless individuals who are most in need and high users of county health resources.

“Providing housing is actually money-saving for the health system,” said Dr. Mitchell Katz, Director for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.  According to Dr. Katz, housing one homeless person costs between $600 to $900 per month whereas hospital time can cost $3,300 per day.  The health services department estimates that the annual cost for inpatient services for homeless patients is roughly $70 million or $30,000 per patient.

The comprehensive project includes mental health services and substance abuse treatment.  Over $12 million in newly renovated housing units were provided by the City of Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department.  $5.4 million in rental subsidies over 10 years was provided by the Housing Authority of the city of Los Angeles.  $7.2 million over 10 years in health services was provided by the Los Angeles County Departments of Health Services, Mental Health and Public Health.

According to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, “These new units are just the beginning of a revolutionary approach to heal through housing.”

Tovar does not forget his own recent struggles: Once a month he loads a suitcase full of cakes, bread and tortillas and takes it to a food bank to help feed less fortunate homeless people.  He feels compelled to “pay it forward.” Tovar said, “It makes me feel good because I’m able to help them out.”

Can Housing L.A. County’s Homeless Families Save Money?


In Los Angeles County, 7,391 families struggle nightly to find a way to survive without shelter. In 2010, several agencies began to develop a regional approach to providing not just housing, but supportive services and need-based assistance to better help homeless families regain stability. In some cases, mental health and substance abuse services, or housing assistance made the difference.

The Family Solutions Centers started last March with $3.7 million in city and county funding, with the goal of rapidly rehousing homeless households and offering centers throughout Los Angeles County where homeless can go to have problems professionally assessed. To date, there are seven lead agencies that host Family Solution Centers in six of the eight service planning areas in Los Angeles County. These Family Solutions can direct families to health services, employment assistance services, rental assistance or emergency housing. And the program has already proven to be successful, having seen 1,542 families between March and December. Three hundred and two of those families were able to avoid homelessness, 305 were placed in interim housing, and 417 were provided permanent housing.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved an additional $10.2 million to set up more Family Solution Centers to offer more services. An additional $2.4 million is also being considered for mental health services. The centers will extend to at least eight agencies and promises to service all eight service planning areas in Los Angeles County. The services will be expanded to include social service case managers and substance abuse treatment. The expanded program will promote collaboration between public agencies and homeless service providers and be called the Homeless Family Solutions System. The system also includes the collection of data to assess which programs are working and to track long term success with families.

“Families are the core of our community,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “And today we have the opportunity to improve the way we deliver services to those families most in need.”

Christine Mirasy-Glasco, executive director of Upward Bound House, a community-based social service agency, testified before Board of Supervisors Tuesday in support of expanding Family Solutions Centers. The centers, she said, have streamlined the process of getting help for families. “Families used to have to travel around the entire county every day looking for services,” Mirasy-Glasco said. “This changes all of that.”

A study by the University of Pennsylvania found that 85 percent of homeless people in Philadelphia who were given housing and support were still in housing two years later and were unlikely to become homeless again.
Research shows that people spend less time in expensive emergency rooms and hospital beds when they have housing. Children are able to attend school and do homework when they have a warm home, a bed to sleep in and a sturdy table to write on.

“It is a proven program. It works. And it’s been evaluated,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added, “Without question, supporting homeless families with services and housing saves money in the long run. It simply costs less to serve and house than it does to ignore. It’s an investment in our future.”

Click here for more information about Family Service Centers.

Star Apartments Open New Clinic

The Star Apartment project, a newly built supportive housing site for the homeless, also will be home to a new Department of Health Services primary care clinic that will specialize in providing integrated health care services to homeless people and residents of supportive housing.

The building, owned by the Skid Row Housing Trust, will house the Star Clinic on the ground level and the department’s Housing for Health offices, with 102 residential units above. Funding for the clinic was recently approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Seventy-Eight tenants already have moved into the building, located on 6th Street and Maple Avenue, with the rest scheduled to move in by the end of December. Designed by notable architect Michael Maltzan, the building is made of prefabricated residences that were placed on top of a concrete superstructure. Formerly an elevated parking garage, the building will include a basketball court and track on its former roof for the tenants. The UniHealth Foundation, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and Gensler Architecture also contributed to the project.

Based on other similar projects, the Department of Health Services anticipates a 75 percent reduction in unnecessary emergency room visits and inpatient admissions for tenants who are housed in the the Star apartments.

Located along the border of Skid Row, the project has been praised by architecture and urban design experts for setting a new standard for remodeling an existing 1-story building and adding new community spaces and residential levels above. In addition, there will be a community garden in the space for residents to enjoy.

“The Star Apartments will offer high quality housing, services and amenities to help folks get back on their feet and live productive lives,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose office contributed $400,000 for the project. “It is essential that we offer these types of homes for people in need across our community.”

First 5 LA Allocates $10 Million to Aid Homeless Families

First 5 LA, a nonprofit organization that funds early education programs for children from infancy to the age of five, allocated $10 million to provide rental assistance to homeless families and supportive services to those at risk of becoming homeless.

The nonprofit’s board also voted to eliminate a past program requirement that limited eligibility to applicants with an allegation of family abuse or neglect that had been investigated by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.

The motion, brought by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman and First 5 Commission Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas, guarantees that hundreds of low-income families will receive the support services they need to get back on their feet. The assistance typically lasts six to nine months.

“This motion is intended to keep families together, off the streets and with a roof over their heads,” said the supervisor after the vote. “I applaud First 5 in taking these important steps to prevent kids from being homeless and — even worse — separated from their families.”

Data shows that children in families that become homeless are at a significantly higher risk of being removed from the family.

“A safe, stable home every night plays a critical role in supporting the overall development of L.A. County’s children,” said First 5 LA Executive Director Kim Belshé. “The additional funds approved by the First 5 LA Commission will help ensure more families with young children are able to secure the housing and supportive services so vital to strengthening families and improving child outcomes.”

At the meeting, Karen Acfalle, director of family programs for Beyond Shelter, publically recalled a family of eight, with six children, ages 2 to 15-years-old who came to her office a year ago for assistance.

The family lost their oldest child who was 21 years old in an accident on the I-5 freeway. They exhausted their savings to pay for the funeral and during the same time the father lost his job. Eviction from their home followed, as did a hardscrabble life: the family, which slept in its minivan, dined by heating frozen burritos on the dashboard, visited the local Laundromat for hot water for their instant noodles and showered at the YMCA. Acfalle, noted that the passage of today’s motion will allow Beyond Shelter to find permanent housing for the family.

“This motion means that there is hope for this family,” said Acfalle. “Housing is a right and the financial support from this motion will help this family regain efficiency and obtain housing.”

Joining Acfalle in testimony at the First 5 LA Board meeting were speakers from Upward Bound House, Shelter Partnership, Inc., the Community Development Commission of the County of Los Angeles and L.A. Family Housing who each attested to both the need and the ability to assist more families with this motion.