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.”

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.”

Leading the Way on a Homelessness Crisis Response

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas reads in motion on January 14, 2020. (BOS Photographer/Dave Franco)

A day after the Governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors issued a Comprehensive Crisis Response Strategy, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas filed a motion urging the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to develop a framework for implementing priority elements of the 40-point strategy across Los Angeles County in the short term.

Co-authored by Supervisor Janice Hahn, the motion also called for developing a plan that would create greater capacity and accountability in Los Angeles County to ensure housing or shelter for people ready and willing to move indoors.

The motion complements Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order to make more State land and facilities available to build shelter and housing, and a proposal to invest $1.4 billion next year to address homelessness. Elements of the Governor’s spending plan had been inspired by programs in Los Angeles County.

“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. “The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority estimates approximately 30,000 unsheltered individuals have been assessed and are willing to accept housing services now, if those were available. We need a paradigm shift if we want to grow the capacity to serve all those ready to come indoors.”

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.

“Given that the County is the epicenter of the State’s homeless crisis, the Board of Supervisors must continue to lead by example and embrace the immediate implementation of strategies to categorically change the course of this crisis,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “We should pilot an accountability framework for ensuring all those who are ready and willing to come indoors have the ability to do so.”

Construction is poised to start on Safe Landing, a project championed by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas that made County land in West Athens available to build clinically-enhanced interim housing for 180 individuals. Using prefab construction materials, it will be built in less than a year on a site where, according to the most recent Homeless Count, more than 700 unsheltered individuals live within a two-mile radius.

Safe Landing will be open 24 hours, 7 days a week, welcoming individuals whenever they are ready to receive services. It will have a fully-staffed medical and behavioral health clinic on-site, ample storage for the residents, areas for pets, and quarters that allow couples to stay together. Luana Murphy is President and Chief Executive Officer of Exodus Recovery, Inc., which will operate the site, and provide integrated clinical services to all comers.

“As a provider that serves clients who are frequently medically-fragile and long-term homeless, I am pleased to see the Comprehensive Crisis Response Strategy issued by the Governor’s Council yesterday, and I am thankful that the Board of Supervisors is showing their leadership by taking steps to implement the recommendations,” she said.  “We are already implementing some of the models being scaled up by the Governor through his budget actions last week and I look forward to working closely with the County and other stakeholders to do even more to help our vulnerable neighbors.”

Va Lecia Adams Kellum, Ph.D., is president and CEO of St. Joseph Center, which in partnership with Los Angeles County, provides street outreach to the homeless, and tenancy support services to people who have been housed.

“Thanks to the Governor’s Council for all their hard work,” she said. “We appreciate the recommendations that address the very heart of the homeless crisis. As one of the lead agencies working to address this problem, St. Joseph Center looks forward to working with County of Los Angeles to implement the recommendations and ensure that everyone has a safe and permanent place to live. “

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.” Council members also endorsed many recommendations to guide specific budget and policy actions for the beginning of the 2020 legislative session and called for appointing a “single point of authority for homelessness in state government.”

The Council prioritized:

  • Preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place by strengthening renter protections, cracking down on rent gouging, and providing a legal defense against evictions;
  • Streamlining the construction of permanent supportive housing, affordable housing, and service-enriched temporary shelters, especially on public land;
  • Once people are housed, providing them with rent subsidies and other support to remain housed;
  • Maximizing the use of healthcare and mental health care funds for extremely vulnerable populations;
  • Breaking the cycle between homelessness and the criminal justice system by investing in program that safely divert the mentally ill from jail into treatment.
  • Some of the recommendations can be operationalized immediately with the Governor’s recent executive order, and upon the state Legislature’s approval of additional funding to tackle homelessness this fiscal year.

Diverting Thousands of Individuals with Mental Illness from Jail to Treatment

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Governor Gavin Newsom at the Skid Row City Limit.

Homelessness is intimately linked with the criminal and juvenile justice systems and in a comprehensive response to homelessness, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a Community Care Collaborative Pilot (CCCP) that will receive $24.6 million in 2020-21 and $364.2 million over 6-years to focus on diversion of individuals with mental health needs into supportive placements. This investment directly builds on the success of LA County’s Office of Diversion and Re-entry’s work diverting people with mental illness from jail to treatment and allows it to further expand efforts in LA County as well as be replicated across the state.

It comes on the heels of a recently released independent study by RAND Corp., commissioned in response to a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Kathryn Barger, that noted more than 3,300 people struggling with mental health disorders in Los Angeles County jails are legally suitable and clinically eligible for diversion to community-based treatment programs.

“We know the best solution to homelessness is to prevent someone from becoming homeless. I’m pleased to see the State’s investment in doubling down on what the data and our experience has shown to work here in LA County, said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion that created ODR. “With diversion we create better outcomes without compromising public safety.”

Dr. Kristen Ochoa and Judge Peter Espinoza of the Los Angeles County Office of Diversion and Reentry. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors.

The RAND report concluded that of the 5,400 of the county’s average daily jail population, 61 percent meet the criteria currently used by ODR, whose own recent research concluded 56 percent of the County jail’s mental health population is eligible for diversion, with an additional 7 percent also potentially eligible. It also buttresses the aim of the board’s June 2018 motion, led by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, to expand ODR’s diversion work to other courts throughout LA County.

“Knowing how many people are appropriate for diversion is a first step toward understanding the types of programs, staff and funding that would be needed to treat those individuals in the community,” the study’s lead author, RAND behavioral scientist Stephanie Brooks, said.

Graphic courtesy of the RAND Corporation.

Since 2015, when the board created the Office of Diversion and Re-entry (ODR) within the Department of Health Services (DHS), through a motion led by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, they have invested more than $100 million in a combination of long-term and short-term measures. This was done on the belief that sending low-risk individuals with serious mental illness and substance abuse disorders into treatment, rather than jail could make communities safer, break the cycle between jail and homelessness, and ultimately save public funds—and the data has affirmed their efforts. ODR has since diverted more than 4,400 people from County jail to long term care and supportive housing, 90 percent have remained housed after six months.

“We are grateful to Governor Newsom for this opportunity to expand the work we are already doing with hundreds of patients in partnership with the State to improve the lives of those who are incompetent to stand trial by removing them from jail, housing and treating them in the community, where they may remain in supportive housing, said Judge Peter Espinoza, Director of the Office of Diversion and Reentry.

“As a community-based provider of 40 years, my colleagues and I commend the Board of Supervisors’ resolve to create a meaningful community-based system of care as an alternative to incarceration. It’s truly been transformative,” said Herbert Hatanaka, Executive Director of Special Services Group. “Gov. Newsom’s announcement and intention to invest state resources into diversion will undoubtedly ensure a more robust system of care here in Los Angeles and throughout the state. These are very exciting times.”

“This investment by the Governor and recent study by RAND simply reinforces our belief when we started on the path to create the Office of Diversion and Reentry—it would be a worthy endeavor that would disrupt the cycle between jail and homelessness, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added.