35,000 Masks to Skid Row Street Outreach Teams focused on Mental Health

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas will facilitate the donation of 35,000 surgical masks to the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health’s Homeless Outreach & Mobile Engagement (HOME) teams at the Downtown Mental Health Clinic in Skid Row.

HOME teams include mental health psychiatrists and counselors, psychiatric nurses and social workers, substance abuse counselors, medical caseworkers, and people who have experienced homelessness. They work directly with people living on the streets, at parks and under freeways to offer compassionate, knowledgeable, collaborative help in accessing medical, psychiatric and social services. They also provide consultation, advocacy, transportation, intensive case management and collaborate with other agencies to coordinate linkages to relevant services and resources – including housing, mental health services, access to healthcare, and benefits establishment.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, HOME teams have been a key part of Los Angeles County’s effort to provide particularly vulnerable populations with critical basic needs, including food, water and clothing, personal protective equipment, temporary stays in a hotel or motel room through Project Roomkey and/or affordable apartments with supportive services.

“HOME teams represent the best of Los Angeles County, going out every day to serve some of our most vulnerable neighbors, literally saving lives in a pandemic,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “With this donation of surgical masks, we can help keep them safe, as well as their clients, who need care more than ever.”

Director General Louis Huang of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles, which donated the masks, said, “Taiwan fights relentlessly to protect our friends from COVID-19 and the Taiwan Can Help campaign was launched to ensure masks for all. We are all Angelenos fighting COVID-19 as one. Taiwan stands in solidarity with LA to safeguard the lives in our City of Angels.”

“Throughout the COVID crisis, our staff has remained on the frontlines to serve the County’s most vulnerable individuals and families experiencing homelessness, supporting their wellbeing as the pandemic continues to take a toll on physical and mental health,” said Jonathan E. Sherin, M.D., Ph.D., Director of Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.  “The vital work our HOME team does would not be possible without their passion and commitment and keeping them safe with personal protective equipment is a priority to us. We thank Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office for their gift of 35,000 surgical masks to support the health of our staff.”

Below is a summary of work performed by the HOME teams since the Safer at Home order was issued in March:

  • 19,513 Outreach Contacts
  • 323 People placed in Project Room Key
  • 79 People placed in Los Angeles Recreation and Parks shelters
  • 31 People transported to Isolation & Quarantine sites for observation/treatment related to COVID-19
  • 122 People placed in interim housing (other than Project Roomkey)
  • 80 People matched to permanent supportive housing
  • 42 people placed in permanent supportive housing
  • 63 People assigned to Full Service Partnership (FSP) intensive mental health treatment programs

As the pandemic continues, the HOME Teams’ focus is shifting from providing transitional services to facilitating ongoing mental health care and safe housing for their clients.

Improving Accountability and Oversight of Homeless Funds

Acting on a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn, the Board of Supervisors voted to explore new governance models that would improve the accountability and oversight of homeless services funds after a newly released review uncovered flaws in the Los Angeles Housing Services Authority (LAHSA)’s internal controls over the reporting and validation of performance data.

The Los Angeles County Auditor-Controller reviewed LAHSA’s performance data from July 2018 through June 2019, when LAHSA and its contractors provided services, primarily funded through Measure H, to approximately 70,000 people who were either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The review found that LAHSA was initially unable to provide documentation (such as a detailed list of clients served), and that performance data was not always accurately reported and resulted in an overstatement of program outcomes.

In 2018, the Auditor Controller reviewed LAHSA’s financial transactions, internal controls and compliance, and concluded that LAHSA’s fiscal operations needed improvement. At that time, Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Hahn brought forward a motion that instituted routine and ongoing monitoring of LAHSA’s systems. Many of the initial deficiencies have since been addressed, but as the most recent review demonstrates, there is still a need to ensure ongoing optimal performance and accountability.

“The need for oversight and accountability were embedded into the law that created Measure H, so the public should have confidence in the systems designed to track performance,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Accurate and reliable data is crucial to making sure we are making the most of our resources, given the scale of the homeless crisis.”

“LAHSA was created before homelessness reached crisis proportions, and while it has bulked up personnel and scaled up operations in recent years, its governance model has remained stagnant,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “Perhaps it is time to explore new governance models with the goal of ensuring that we are best serving the thousands of homeless individuals and families who need help.”

Supervisor Hahn added, “The scale of the homelessness crisis and our strategies for tackling it have changed dramatically – but for decades LAHSA’s model has stayed the same. We need a new model that allows LAHSA to take on this crisis more effectively and treat it with the sense of urgency it demands.”

In their motion, both Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Hahn sought recommendations for alternative governance models or structures to administer and oversee homeless funds, programs and services on behalf of Los Angeles County to ensure optimal performance, transparency and accountability.

Keeping Up the Fight Against Homelessness Amid COVID-19

By Mark Ridley-Thomas
Supervisor, Second District of Los Angeles County

“The challenge that we face from the COVID-19 pandemic is truly one of enormous scale and human impact. Throughout the nation, across the county, and here in own community, our daily lives and the way we interact with others has dramatically changed. Social distancing has become common parlance, and not only has COVID-19 unmasked disparities embedded in our healthcare systems, it’s catalyzed a crisis within a crisis for those experiencing homelessness.

“About 66,000 people in Los Angeles County are experiencing homelessness — a 13 percent increase from last year, and a 28 percent increase from the year before. These are numbers of consequence given last year alone in LA County we brought in more than 22,000 people off the streets. We were able to do this because we have Measure H, and we thank the voters for that.  But despite housing 207 people every day—that same day—227 new people cross the threshold into homelessness.

“Persons experiencing homelessness are one of the most vulnerable populations in the COVID-19 pandemic. While we have worked with unprecedented speed to move thousands of homeless Californians into hotel and motel rooms, we must also take care to understand that  people who have lost jobs in the current economic crunch will also become homeless, essentially overwhelming so much progress.

“The current protests and calls for a more equitable society represent the most sustained conversation of the persistent racial disparities’ communities of color face in almost all facets of their daily lives—such as health status, access to health care, wealth, employment, housing, income, and poverty. And these are the core factors that contribute to a greater susceptibility to a person experiencing homelessness.

“The total picture that emerges is that ending homelessness is not just about ending the physical act of being homeless. It is about ending the cascade of policy failures–which racism is a predominant factor—that lead people to experience homelessness.

“We’ve redoubled efforts to prevent homelessness through eviction defense and rental assistance; sponsored policy locally and supported state law to prohibit landlords from discriminating against residents who have publicly-funded rental assistance; and importantly, are ensuring policy makers are using an anti-racist lens to do their work. This, all while ramping up programs like Project Roomkey and Project Homekey to equitably bring the most vulnerable homeless individuals indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic while we continue to build much needed affordable housing for long-term stability.

“But this is just the work that is front and center for us in our challenge to end homelessness—we ask that you join us in this fight.

“We cannot rest until we bring everyone in.”

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.