Tech Innovation to Streamline Homeless Services

Leveraging technology to help people experiencing homelessness, Los Angeles County has announced awards in its Technology Innovation Challenge, aimed at creating partnerships with the technology sector to encourage innovation, creativity and sustainable solutions that will have the most impact on the homeless services delivery system.

The winners will share $1.375 million in grant funding to develop transformative, human-centered solutions to help the County and its partners improve homeless services delivery in four key areas. Each firm will receive $200,000 to $500,000.

“Thinking outside the box to help people living on the streets can literally save lives, specially with a pandemic exacerbating our homeless crisis,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “I look forward to harnessing the inventiveness, creativity and compassion brought to the forefront by the Technology Innovation Challenge.”

Winner: One Degree

Project: One-LA-Connection

Category: Centralized Customer Portal

One-LA-Connection (OLAC) is a web-based and mobile-accessible hub for Los Angeles County residents experiencing homelessness to be screened for, apply for, and manage services needed to stabilize and thrive. OLAC, a partnership between One Degree and Alluma, two partner nonprofits in the “tech-for-good” sector, brings dignity and efficiency to the process of connecting people to the help they need to achieve social and economic mobility.

Winner: Akido Labs

Project: Connect

Category: Customer-Driven Mobile Digital Services

Akido Labs is partnering with the nonprofit homeless services provider HOPICS to enable a client-driven approach to South L.A.’s homelessness response efforts by democratizing access to public-services data. Connect is a technology platform that makes it easy to access homeless services data from any place.

Winner: Huemen Design

Project: LA Helplink

Category: Geomapping Hub & Resources

Category: Operational Reporting of Performance Outcomes 

Currently, data surrounding homelessness in LA exists in several separate systems, resulting in inconsistencies and inefficiencies. Huemen Deseign offers a solution that focuses on providing real-time data that can be enriched over time, with a focus on staff and service availability, inventory and eligibility information. The system will allow future data sources to be easily plugged in and scaled as more data becomes available. Huemen also imagines a platform where the unique needs of the data can be customized based on user needs.

Judging was conducted by a panel of homeless services and technology experts, with final selection by Phil Ansell, Director, Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative; Heidi Marston, Executive Director, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority; and William Kehoe, Los Angeles County Chief Information Officer.

“These award-winning entries demonstrate the power of technology and innovation to help us solve real world problems experienced by real people,” Ansell said. “The Homeless Initiative is proud and grateful to be able to sponsor this Challenge and help move our homeless services delivery system to the next level.”

“We know homelessness is dynamic and our response to this crisis needs to reflect that. Technological innovation is one of the best ways for us to remain responsive. LAHSA is eager to partner with the winners of this challenge to drive creative solutions that will help us collectively serve our unhoused neighbors,” Marston said.

“The Technology Innovation Challenge brought forward civic tech companies from around the country that were passionate in providing modern technology solutions to help L.A County residents who are experiencing homeless access services, receive information and get the help they need,” Kehoe said. “L.A. County is proud to help foster these public-interest solutions from our partners in the private sector.”

The winning projects will now be customized to meet current homeless services needs, based on input from upcoming focus groups with representatives of County departments and partner agencies. After the design phase, the goal is to have the projects begin implementation in January 2021.

Safe Haven in Skid Row

People struggling with homelessness in Skid Row and the street outreach teams working to house them can now take advantage of the newly opened Mollie Lowery and Frank Rice Center, which offers an array of services, from food to showers to healthcare and more.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at the Mollie Lowery and Frank Rice Center. Photo by Aurelia Ventura, Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who helped fund Los Angeles County’s first street outreach teams five years ago under a program called C3 — which stands for County/City/Community — toured the facility informally called the C3 Center.

Funded by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS) Housing for Health Division, the Mollie Lowery and Frank Rice Center is operated by The People Concern, one of the County’s largest nonprofit social services agencies.

“C3 Outreach Teams are essential workers in the fight against homelessness and they’re on the frontlines every day,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “With homelessness and COVID-19 deepening, we have a crisis within a crisis and must redouble our efforts to help the homeless.The Mollie Lowery and Frank Rice Center is an expansion and evolution of our services for our unsheltered neighbors, and underscores our commitment to bringing Everyone In.”

Clothes for people experiencing homelessness are available at the new Center. Photo by Aurelia Ventura, Board of Supervisors

The original C3 Outreach Teams that launched in Skid Row in 2015 became the prototype for the multi-disciplinary street outreach teams now operating throughout the County, thanks to Measure H, championed by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

Previously, C3 Outreach Teams could only render services on the streets, including building a relationship with and earning the trust of their homeless clients in order to connect them with stable housing.

Now, C3 Outreach Teams can take their homeless clients to the Mollie Lowery and Frank Rice Center. On the first floor, they can get food, take a shower, obtain donated clothing and shoes, and relax in a landscaped courtyard. They can also get medical care on-site from LA Christian Health Services, and avail of mental health services, case management, and life skills and wellness workshops.

The second floor has offices for the C3 Outreach Teams, which consist of mental health clinicians, substance abuse case managers, case managers, and medical staff.

The People Concern’s C3 outreach teams going out to help people experiencing homelessness on the streets of Skid Row. Photo by Aurelia Ventura, Board of Supervisors

“The opening of this Center enables our C3 Outreach Team to streamline service delivery by having a brick-and-mortar location where C3 participants can find comprehensive care under one roof,” said John Maceri, CEO of The People Concern. “This facility makes it possible for the most vulnerable in the Skid Row area to rebuild their lives.”

“Our team serves the most vulnerable folks and we are thrilled to be able to expand our services and offer C3 participants a safe community space to catch their breath and receive critical services,” added The People Concern C3 Director Ciara DeVozza.

“DHS’s Housing for Health Division is excited for the reopening of the Mollie Lowery and Frank Rice Center,” DHS Housing for Health Director of Street- Based Engagement, Interim Housing and Enriched Residential Care, Elizabeth Boyce, said. “The partnership between The People Concern and DHS-Housing for Health in renovating and revitalizing this building has been amazing and will result in critical services being provided to the residents of this neighborhood.”

L-R: DHS Housing for Health Director of Street-Based Engagement, Interim Housing and Enriched Residential Care, Elizabeth Boyce; Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas; The People Concern CEO John Maceri; and DHS Housing for Health Director Cheri Todoroff. Photo by Aurelia Ventura, Board of Supervisors.

LA County and City Reach Unprecedented Deal to Bring Thousands of Homeless People Indoors Within Months

Almost 7,000 homeless people living in encampments near freeways, as well as homeless seniors over 65 and others vulnerable to COVID-19, will be brought indoors over the span of 18 months under a joint legal agreement signed by the County and City of Los Angeles and approved on Thursday by Judge David O. Carter.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas speaks to a homeless man living under a freeway bridge during the 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count. Photo by Aurelia Ventura, Boad of Supervisors

Under the agreement, the City committed to provide 6,000 new beds within 10 months, plus an additional 700 beds over 18 months. The County, meanwhile, committed to investing $300 million over five years to fund essential services for the people occupying those beds.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Council President Nury Martinez were tapped by Judge Carter to help negotiate the joint agreement between the County and the City.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbating Los Angeles’ homeless crisis, it is imperative that we marshal our County and City resources to bring our most vulnerable neighbors indoors as expeditiously as possible,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “This is a new milestone in our partnership to ensure that everyone in Los Angeles has a life of dignity and worth.”

City Council President Nury Martinez speaking at the 2020 Empowerment Congress.

“This agreement will lead to major action, not rhetoric,” said City Council President Martinez. “The Court has challenged us to do better, to do more and to do it quickly, and we need to meet that challenge. We are now positioned to dive into difficult but honest conversations with our County partners about future financial resources and obligations. The Los Angeles City Council, and its leadership, will continue to do its duty to lead, collaborate and negotiate on behalf of the City with our County partners toward our common goal to house more homeless Angelenos faster.”

On May 15th, Judge Carter ordered both the County and City to “humanely” relocate anyone camped within 500 feet of an overpass, underpass, or ramp and into a shelter or “an alternative housing option.” Today’s agreement encompasses not only those people but also the most vulnerable segment of the homeless population – those who are 65 years or older, or who have chronic underlying health conditions that put them at high risk of being hospitalized or dying if they contract COVID-19.

The agreement builds on the existing partnership between the County and the City, which together housed a record number of 22,000 homeless people last year, based on the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count released last week.

The County and City have been housing more people every year since the passage of the County’s Measure H in 2017 and the City’s Proposition HHH in 2016, but they have also had to contend with the significant inflow of people becoming homeless for the first time due to economic pressures.

The agreement will also go hand-in-hand with the post-pandemic housing plan being developed by the County under motions by Supervisors Ridley-Thomas, Janice Hahn and Sheila Kuehl, as well as the Comprehensive Crisis Response to homelessness endorsed by Governor Gavin Newsom’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors, co-chaired by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

Doubling Down in the Fight Against Homelessness

 

Statement by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas on the 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count

 “Today, it was announced that homelessness in Los Angeles has increased.  Given the state of the economy and circumstances that compound systemic inequalities, none of us are really surprised.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas speaks with a man just outside his tent during the 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count as Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority Executive Director Heidi Marston looks on. Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

“Yet, we thank the voters for the passage of Measure H.  This last year, we were able to house more than 22,000 people. But for every 207 people we housed, 227 new people became homeless every day.  Our challenge is unique in LA County.  In any other region, these numbers would have ended homelessness.  But with COVID-19, rising unemployment, and a depressed economy, things will likely get worse before they get better.

“Our mission is to double down and to slow the inflow of people becoming homeless.  This means fortifying our safety net in the areas of housing, healthcare and education, where failure has pushed many people into crushing poverty and onto our streets.  This means providing good employment opportunities, stronger tenant protections, and doing more in the way of mental health and substance use services.

“Homelessness is the moral crisis of our time.  While we are not anywhere we wish to be, we are certainly not where we once were.

“We will not rest until we bring Everyone In.”

 

Safe Landing Success Stories: Two Families are Homeless No More

Dennisha Banner holds the key to her new apartment. Photo courtesy of St. Joseph Center.

Two hardworking single moms and their children are homeless no more, just two months after becoming the first beneficiaries of Safe Landing for Families-Broadway.

Both families had been living in their cars until the State of California, the County and City of Los Angeles, the nonprofit homeless services provider St. Joseph Center, and private sector donors collaborated to provide them with well-appointed trailers at Safe Landing for Families-Broadway. There, they received an array of services to help them get back on their feet and prepare to transition into permanent housing. Two months later, they were able to move into their own apartments.

Both moms remained employed throughout their families’ ordeal with  homelessness. They were determined to maintain a sense of normalcy for their children as well as to quickly regain stability and independence.

“I am incredibly proud of these hardworking moms!” said Dr. Va Lecia Adams Kellum, President & CEO of St. Joseph Center, whose caring staff worked closely with the families. “After being priced out of their apartments, they persevered and didn’t let the pandemic prevent their progress.”

Dennisha Banner, one of the newly housed moms, feels hopeful about her family’s future. She said, “Because of St. Joseph Center, I am over the hardest part of my life and I am able to push further!”

St. Joseph Center President & CEO Dr. Va Lecia Adams Kellum, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and Governor Gavin Newsom. Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order in January to repurpose the trailers to serve as temporary housing for the homeless. The trailers had previously been used by first responders to the Camp Fire in Northern California.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas immediately filed the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors motion to request the trailers, then led the effort to expedite electrical, water and sewage connections for the trailers, as well as other improvements to provide a safe, secure and welcoming environment.

Councilman Curren Price filed the Los Angeles City Council motion to expedite the lease for a City-owned parking lot for the trailers.

By mid-February, Safe Landing for Families-Broadway began serving 10 families in 10 trailers.  Safe Landing for Families-Crenshaw/Expo opened in late February, also with 10 families in 10 trailers.

“Heartfelt congratulations to the two families who have persevered and overcome their circumstances with the help of the tireless St. Joseph Center staff,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas  said. “Two months ago, we opened this site thanks to collaboration with the State, the city and the private sector, and we are already seeing this collective action bear fruit. This is what a Comprehensive Crisis Response looks like.”

“Not even a global pandemic has prevented St. Joseph Center from continuing to providing essential and life-changing services to the most vulnerable in our communities,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added.

Interior of the trailers. Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors.

“The Safe Landing trailer program was designed to be a temporary stop on a family’s path toward gaining independence and a permanent home,” Councilman Price said.  “As families become housed and others come in, this model is a prime example of what we can achieve when the State, County, City and phenomenal partners like St. Joseph Center come together, driven by a common goal. Happy early Mother’s Day to these two single moms who are taking care of business and putting their families first!”

Dennisha has a story that is sadly typical in Los Angeles. About three years ago, a divorce cut her household income in half. She was soon squeezed out of her apartment by constant rent increases, so she and her children — now ages 16, 13, and 8 — moved in with her mother. Her plan was to stay a few months, just long enough to find a new place. Then, she learned the hard way that locating a new apartment in Los Angeles is extraordinarily difficult, especially if you cannot pay three months of rent up front (first and last, plus a security deposit).

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and TV host Jimmy Kimmel, who was among the volunteer during Community Day at Safe Landing for Families-Broadway. Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

After her mother’s landlord threatened eviction for having too many people in the unit, Dennisha and her three children moved into her car. For a while, she parked near her mother’s place so they could use the bathroom and kitchen there. During this time, the beach became a refuge for the family, a place where they could relax, have fun, and even do homework without the fear that came with sleeping in their car. A stay in a Safe Parking program in South LA was a first step toward something better.

In February, Dennisha’s family became among the first 10 to move into Safe Landing for Families-Broadway, also called SOLA Open Air: A Safe Landing for Families. By April, Dennisha’s family became one of the first two families to transition into their own apartments.

Besides lauding the two mothers for their determination, Dr. Adams Kellum also praised the hard work of the caseworkers at St. Joseph Center, whose essential staff have continued helping people throughout the pandemic. “They are heroes, and they never stopped doing whatever was needed to serve our clients,” she noted.

St. Joseph Center reaches more than 10,000 individuals annually through a variety of outreach, housing, mental health, and job training programs. More information available at www.stjosephctr.org.

In a display of compassion and community, more than 100 volunteers came together in February to prepare the Safe Landing for Families-Broadway site to be “move-in ready” for the homeless families with children moving in. Among the volunteers and donors was TV host Jimmy Kimmel. Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors