In Tackling Homelessness, Together We Thrive

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Kaiser Permanente Medical Director Dr. Kirk Tamaddon at this year’s Homeless Count. Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined thousands of volunteers who fanned out across Los Angeles County over three days to count the homeless population, with the goal of finding out where services are needed most, and ultimately deliver them. This year, he walked the streets of Mid-City, accompanied by Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) Interim Executive Director Heidi Marston, Kaiser Permanente Medical Director Dr. Kirk Tamaddon, and others. The Supervisor also visited volunteers at the Community Build deployment site in South LA.

“It is our duty to improve lives beyond our own,” the Supervisor said. “We are in a crisis, but should never accept it as the new normal. By volunteering for the Homeless Count, and taking other steps to help our most vulnerable neighbors, we are recommitting ourselves to the belief that we can change the world around us for the better.”

Kaiser Permanente Medical Director Dr. Kirk Tamaddon, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) Interim Executive Director Heidi Marston at this year’s Homeless Count. Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

Kaiser Permanente’s West Los Angeles Medical Center served as the Mid-City deployment site for 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count. Many of its doctors and other staff were among the volunteers, wearing blue shirts that said “Together We Thrive.”

“For Kaiser Permanente, housing is health,” said Dr. Tamaddon. “Without a safe, stable place to call home, it is nearly impossible to focus on basic health and medical needs. We know that chronic homelessness substantially reduces a person’s life expectancy, increases the risk of disease, and poses public health risks. Safe and stable housing is key to a person’s physical, mental and social health.  As one of the nation’s largest nonprofit integrated health care systems, Kaiser Permanente has a responsibility to support health at every opportunity, including efforts to increase the supply of affordable housing and reduce homelessness and housing instability.”

Kaiser Permanente was also the first private sector contributor to California Governor Gavin Newsom’s newly announced fund to combat homelessness in the state. When the Governor created the $750 million California Access to Housing and Services Fund, he called on corporate and philanthropic organizations to invest in it as well. Kaiser Permanente immediately responded, pledging $25 million. This commitment builds  on the $200 million in impact investments that Kaiser Permanente has announced in recent years in support of community health, mainly focusing on affordable housing. It also complements ongoing sustainable rapid-housing programs and efforts to strengthen systems that can end chronic homelessness.

“Chronic homelessness has been shown to cut 27 years from the average life span and is associated with communicable diseases such as hepatitis and typhus, increased hospitalizations, and frequent readmissions,” Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO Greg Adams said. “Safe and stable housing is key to a person’s physical, mental and social health, so we applaud the governor’s plan to address homelessness. Our investment in the fund aligns with Kaiser Permanente’s overall strategy to preserve affordable housing and prevent displacement of existing residents, while addressing the root causes of homelessness in our communities.”

Volunteers at the Community Build deployment site in South LA. Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

The 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count began in the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys, then moved on to East and West Los Angeles, before wrapping up at the Antelope Valley and Metro and South Los Angeles.

Last year’s count indicated that the number of people experiencing homelessness across the county at the time rose to 59,000, 27,000 of them unsheltered. Despite the increase, the homeless services system helped more people than ever before. Residents exited homelessness over 21,000 times and more than 75,000 people received services, including prevention, outreach, shelters, and permanent supportive housing. More than 31,000 completed all the steps to access housing—but could not find a space to move into.

“Homelessness is dynamic. It changes day over day, year over year and everyone’s path is different. Conducting this count helps us better understand the needs of our neighbors experiencing homelessness so that we can align our resources to best address those needs,” said Heidi Marston, Interim Executive Director of LAHSA. “Given the current crisis on our streets, the data collected during the count is more important than ever.”

2020 Homeless Count volunteers at Kaiser Permanente’s West Los Angeles Medical Center, which served as LAHSA’s Mid-City deployment site. . Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

Mounting an Urgent Response to the Emergency that is Homelessness

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in Sacramento visits one of the State-owned travel trailers committed by Governor Gavin Newsom to house the homeless. Photo by Carl Costas.

Acting on a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn, the Board of Supervisors ordered the development of a road map for implementing a Comprehensive Crisis Response Strategy in Los Angeles County that would rapidly provide housing or shelter for people currently living on the streets who are ready and willing to come indoors.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, accompanied by State officials, visit State-owned travel trailers in Sacramento committed by Governor Gavin Newsom to serve as interim shelters for the homeless. Photo by Carl Costas.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas immediately followed up with a separate motion, also approved by the Board, identifying specific locations for 30 trailers that Governor Gavin Newsom has committed to deploying to Los Angeles County as part of his Executive Order, issued on Jan. 8. The motion calls for deploying the trailers in public and privately-owned parking lots in South LA within days to serve as interim housing for families.

“The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority tells us that, right now, there are 30,000 people across Los Angeles County who have been assessed and are ready and willing to be housed,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “We need a framework that makes sure each of them has a safe place to go — and soon. This means getting rid of any red tape and other unnecessary impediments so that we can expedite housing and services.”

The Comprehensive Crisis Response motion complements Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order, his proposal to invest $1.4 billion next year to address homelessness, and the recommendations of the Governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors, co-chaired by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. Elements of the Governor’s plan had been inspired by programs in Los Angeles County.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, in a letter to the Board of Supervisors, expressed “strong support” for the motion, saying it “would provide Los Angeles County with the framework it needs to effectively implement priority elements of the Council’s recommendations and create greater capacity to ensure housing or shelter for people ready and willing to move indoors.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas with community advocates, business leaders and nonprofit service providers who testified in favor of his Comprehensive Crisis Response motion. L-R: Herb Hatanaka, Special Service for Groups; Hilary Aquino, Exodus Recovery; Reba Stevens, Mental Health Commission and LAHSA Lived Experience Advisory Board; Jeanette Christian, Senator Feinstein’s Office; Sanjit Mahanti, Akido Labs; Charlene Dimas-Peinado, Wellnest; Royalty Gayle; Rita Speck, Kaiser Permanente; Olivia Lee, LA Chamber of Commerce; LaRae Cantley, LAHSA Lived Experience Advisory Board; Sarah Dusseault, LAHSA Commission; Philip Feder, Paul Hastings. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supevisors

Senator Feinstein added, “I pledge to continue working for additional federal resources to help provide housing and additional services for those experiencing homelessness. As Californians, we must continue to work together and invest in solutions that ensure we have the resources to fight this epidemic.”

“We have to treat the homeless crisis with the urgency that it demands,” said Supervisor Hahn. “I don’t want to continue to rely on the same old policies and practices that are working too slowly. We need our own Marshall Plan here in LA County so that we can provide shelter and housing to anyone and everyone who is willing to come inside, and we need the flexibility to do it as quickly and as efficiently as possible.”

At the State Capitol, Governor Gavin Newsom receives the recommendations of his Council of Regional Homeless Advisors, co-chaired by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. Photo by Carl Costas.

“As a member of the Governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors, I support Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ and Supervisor Hahn’s motion to act on the Council’s recommendations,” said Sharon Rapport, associate director of the Corporation for Supportive Housing. “The Council’s recommendations would put California on a path to become a national leader in solving homelessness. It would treat the over 151,000 Californians experiencing homelessness as if their lives are at risk, because they are. This motion signals to our State leaders and to other jurisdictions that Los Angeles County continues to lead on this issue and to be accountable for results. I appreciate the Board’s strong action to promote local and state commitment and investment toward ending homelessness.”

“As a board member of A Community of Friends, a nonprofit organization that builds affordable housing, we applaud the Supervisors’ effort to end homelessness,” said Philip Feder, partner at Paul Hastings law firm. ” More needs to be done to provide for the right of all individuals to permanent housing and the obligation of the state and federal governments to provide the funding and to end bureaucratic hurdles to building that housing.”

“This is the right approach: creativity and flexibility in approach,but focus and accountability on the bottom line – helping all our friends outside have a place to call home,” said Chris Ko, managing director for homelessness and strategic initiatives at the nonprofit United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

The Governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors, co-chaired by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg meet in Sacramento to submit their recommendations to the Governor. Photo by Carl Costas.

The Comprehensive Crisis Response motion:

  • Instructs County departments, led by the County CEO’s Homeless Initiative and Office of Emergency Management, to study the Governor’s Council recommendations to create a framework for prioritizing and implementing strategies that would build greater capacity and accountability to ensure housing and services for Los Angeles County’s homeless population who are ready and willing to move indoors.
  • Asks for 60-day report-back on an accountability framework related to a legal mandate for Los Angeles County to increase its capacity to provide housing and services;
  • Supports the Governor’s Executive Order and his $1.4-billion budget proposal for addressing homelessness, and explores additional legislation.

More than 1,000 homeless people died on Los Angeles County streets last year, a trend that is likely to continue unless solutions for more immediate shelter and housing can be found. In their recommendations, the 13-member Governor’s Council emphasized that “urgency should drive our response” and that homelessness must be viewed as “a humanitarian crisis tantamount to any sustained natural disaster.”

2020 Kingdom Day Parade Calls for Equality For All Humanity

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with street outreach workers, case managers, Empowerment Congress members, and other people who serve the homeless, at the 2020 Kingdom Day Parade. Photo by Aurelia Ventura / Board of Supervisors

On a day dedicated to celebrating the venerable Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas led people on the frontlines helping the homeless – from street outreach workers to advocates – at the 35th annual Kingdom Day Parade, drawing grateful cheers and applause from the crowds along Martin Luther King Blvd. The 3-mile parade began at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Western Avenue, proceeded west to Crenshaw Boulevard and then south to Vernon Avenue. Thousands of people lined the streets to cheer on dozens of marching bands, floats, equestrian units, drill teams, dance groups, and dignitaries. The theme this year — “Equality For All Humanity, Our Next Step.”

(left to right) ABC7’s Marc Brown, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and ABC7’s David Ono at the 2020 Kingdom Day Parade. Photo by Aurelia Ventura / Board of Supervisors

About 85 street outreach workers participated in the parade, many of them working for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the LA County Department of Mental Health or working for nonprofits such as HOPICS and St. Joseph Center, contracted by LA County Department of Health Services.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas walks with over 100 street outreach workers, case managers, Empowerment Congress members, and other people who serve the homeless. Photo by Aurelia Ventura / Board of Supervisors

As he walked with over 100 street outreach workers, case managers, Empowerment Congress members, and other people who serve the homeless, and advocate for services in their community, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas stressed that everyone has to do to their part to address the crisis. He made a similar call to action at the 28th Annual Empowerment Congress, which came on the heels of Governor Gavin Newsom issuing an Executive Order and proposing an unprecedented investment of $1.4 billion in the state budget to address homelessness. Elements of the Governor’s spending plan had been inspired by programs in Los Angeles County. The call to action also follows the Governor’s Council of Regional Advisors, co-chaired by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, issuing a 40-point Comprehensive Crisis Response Strategy.

The call came just one day prior to the Board of Supervisors’ vote on a motion by Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn that seeks to develop a framework for multiple Los Angeles County departments to start implementing priority elements of that Comprehensive Crisis Response Strategy, particularly for those people currently living on the streets who are ready to come indoors.

Onlookers young and old along Martin Luther King Blvd. Photo by Aurelia Ventura / Board of Supervisors

“Implicit in Governor Newsom’s proposal and the Council’s recommendations is a call for State, county and city governments to respond to this crisis with new urgency, boldness and ingenuity,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who co-chairs the Council with Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas noted more than 1,000 homeless people died on Los Angeles County streets last year, and this trend is not expected to abate unless solutions for more immediate shelter and housing can be found.

“By taking action, we have a chance to live out our professed values and bring them in line with our most sacred right: dignity for all,” the Supervisor said.

 

A Call to Action on Homelessness at Empowerment Congress Summit

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas issues a call to action at the 28th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit.

On a weekend dedicated to the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a group of state, county, city and community leaders together issued a call to action on homelessness to a massive crowd at the 28th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit.

Assemblymembers Mike Gipson and Autumn Burke. Photo by Mike Baker / Board of Supervisors

“We must resolve, in our hearts and minds, that it is our duty to improve lives beyond our own,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, founder of the Empowerment Congress, told about 800 people gathered for the summit’s plenary session at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU) in Willowbrook. “By taking action, we have a chance to live out our professed values and bring them in line with our most sacred right: dignity for all.”

Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez, along with State Assemblymembers Mike Gipson, Autumn Burke and Miguel Santiago, and California State Association of Counties (CSAC) President Lisa Bartlett also urged everyone to do their part to address what the Supervisor called the “moral and civic crisis of our time.”

Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez. Photo by Aurelia Ventura / Board of Supervisors

“California’s homelessness issue has gotten terrifyingly out of control,” Assemblymember Santiago said. “We have a real obligation to get homeless families and individuals into safe housing and provide them with services to help get them back on their feet. To do that, we need bold, creative solutions now.”

“We are facing a humanitarian crisis; all children and families deserve a home,” Assemblywoman Burke added.

CSAC President and Orange County Supervisor Bartlett said, “The Empowerment Congress Summit is a great example of how elected officials, community leaders and stakeholders from across the state can come together to share innovative ideas and work together to solve the most challenging issues of our communities in peril.”

The call to action comes in the wake of Governor Gavin Newsom issuing an Executive Order and proposing an unprecedented investment of $1.4 billion in the state budget to address homelessness. Elements of the Governor’s spending plan had been inspired by programs in Los Angeles County.

The call to action also follows the Governor’s Council of Regional Advisors, co-chaired by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, issuing a 40-point Comprehensive Crisis Response Strategy.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas makes a pledge to bring a Comprehensive Crisis Response Strategy to Los Angeles County. Photo by Aurelia Ventura / Board of Supervisors

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will vote on a motion by Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn that seeks to develop a framework for multiple Los Angeles County departments to start implementing priority elements of that Comprehensive Crisis Response Strategy, particularly for those people currently living on the streets who are ready to come indoors.

The goal is to determine how those priority elements can be operationalized in Los Angeles County in the short term, but with targets and timelines to ensure long-term sustainability and effectiveness. The County CEO’s Homeless Initiative and Office of Emergency Management would be tasked to lead this effort, in partnership with other departments that touch homelessness.

Addressing the Empowerment Congress Summit, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said, “I pledge to urge my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to make ending homelessness an obligation and a responsibility — not just a goal to aspire to. This requires a real emergency response, with more resources, more ingenuity, and more intentionality and speed.”

Audience members at the Summit Plenary. Photo by Mike Baker / Board of Supervisors

He told the crowd, “Today, I call on each and every one of you to answer the call to action — to do more, to dig deeper, to help bring everyone in. This could mean finding out which nonprofit is helping the homeless in your neighborhood and offering support. It could mean donating your time to serve a meal or mentor someone.”

Dr. David M. Carlisle, President and CEO of CDU, said the campus was honored to host the summit for the second consecutive year. “We have deep roots in the South Los Angeles communities that are the focus of this event,” he said. “Over five decades ago, this institution was founded to address health disparities in under-resourced areas such as South Los Angeles.  Our vision is similar to that of this conference, as we seek to ‘educate, engage and empower’ individuals in our communities.”

The Empowerment Congress is a national model for civic engagement and a precursor to neighborhood councils. Founded by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in the wake of the 1992 civil unrest in Watts, it is a dynamic partnership among residents, neighborhood groups, nonprofit organizations, businesses and religious institutions within the diverse communities of Los Angeles County’s Second Supervisorial District. Working to educate, engage and empower individuals and communities to take control of their futures, it has several committees that meet throughout the year to discuss various issues, and an annual summit with a plenary session and workshops.

Empowerment Congress members at the 28th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit. Photo by Aurelia Ventura / Board of Supervisors

Statement on Governor’s Tour of Homeless Services in Los Angeles

Statement from Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas on Governor Gavin Newsom’s Tour of Homeless Services in Los Angeles

“I am pleased to partner with a Governor who doesn’t just talk the talk – but walks the walk.

“Governor Newsom has called this for what it is – a state of emergency – and he is getting a first-hand sense of what Californians struggling with poverty and mental illness are contending with each and every day. With his executive orders and allocation of unprecedented resources, he is mounting an urgent response. The reality may be daunting, but our future doesn’t have to be.

“We know what works. Los Angeles County established a flexible housing subsidy to support our most vulnerable residents, and it has proven to be much more affordable and effective than watching homeless Angelenos cycle in and out of emergency rooms or jails. I am pleased to see Governor Newsom taking this Los Angeles County model and proposing that it be scaled up in all corners of the State.

“Now is the time to roll up our sleeves, shore up existing resources, and advance a response driven by the ingenuity and urgency this crisis deserves.

“That is why, earlier today, I introduced a motion that will be considered by the Board of Supervisors next Tuesday, January 21st, to utilize the Comprehensive Crisis Response Strategy that the Council of Regional Homeless Advisors shared with the Governor yesterday, and prepare a plan that will hold Los Angeles County – in partnership with the State – accountable for ensuring shelter or housing for all those ready to receive such services.”