Homelessness Crisis: A State of Emergency

By Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Special to CNN.com

The multifaceted St. Joseph Center Street Outreach & Engagement Team connects with homeless individuals. Photo by County of Los Angeles

(CNN) — Los Angeles is enduring a crisis of homelessness. We are in the eye of an economic storm — fighting the forces of high rents, stagnant wages, and a deficit of a half million units of affordable housing — that is pushing thousands from housed to homeless. And its cost, the moral expense to us as a community and region, deserves a statewide declaration of a State of Emergency.

This year’s count revealed that at any given point in time, there are more than 58,900 Angeleños experiencing homelessness; many are families sleeping in places not meant for human habitation. It is a frightening illustration of the challenges we face that many from afar may not easily comprehend — for every 133 people our service providers house every day, 150 more people become newly homeless.

It is a race against time, because most unsettling of all, homelessness kills. Last year, 918 people died on the street while they were homeless, and this year we are tragically on track to see more than 1,000 people die in Los Angeles County — an average of nearly three people are dying every day on our streets. For context, this is a rate nearly double the rate of homicide deaths in Los Angeles County. And, according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, nationwide, those who do survive see their lifespans cut by an average of 20 years because they’ve lived among the elements.

Read full OpEd at CNN.com

Statement by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas Supporting Los Angeles County Amicus Brief to Overturn Martin v. Boise

The C3 Skid Row Outreach team works to house homeless in skidrow neighborhood. ( Mayra Vasquez / Los Angeles County )

“Los Angeles County is building an unprecedented safety net. Just this year, we are investing $460 million on a range of solutions, including more than 700 street outreach workers who connect individuals to interim and permanent housing with a range of intensive supportive services.

“But for every 133 people we house every day with Measure H, 150 more people end up on the streets. Tragically, two to three of them die there every day. Incredibly, that’s double our homicide rate.

“I’m simply fed up. The status quo is untenable. We need to call this what it is – a state of emergency – and refuse to resign ourselves to a reality where people are allowed to live in places not fit for human habitation. I refuse to accept this as our new normal.”

CBS Evening News: Lack of affordable housing contributes to homeless crisis

“There’s no way out of this”: Lack of affordable housing contributes to Los Angeles homeless crisis


Los Angeles — From the manicured streets of Beverly Hills to the sands of Venice Beach, to downtown’s notorious Skid Row, the latest count shows nearly 60,000 people are now homeless in Los Angeles County.

Tents and makeshift shelters are popping up everywhere. More than 11,000 people now live in them, including Gary Simmons. The 24-year-old pitches a tent each night to sleep.

“There’s no way out of this. If I can’t find a job, if I can’t find a place to live, how exactly am I going to pull myself out of this hole,” he said.

That’s the question many are asking. Los Angeles residents need to earn nearly $50 an hour just to afford the median monthly rent of $2,471, according to the California Housing Partnership Coalition.

County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is battling what he has called a state of emergency. Last year, as thousands found a home, even more fell into homelessness. “You can’t underestimate the force of poverty,” he said.

Single dad Jess Fernandez and his 11-year-old daughter, Alice are homeless for the first time. So they’ve been staying at Skid Row’s Union Rescue Mission since March, while saving for an apartment. For now, Alice shares a bunk bed with her dad in a space that holds three other families.

“We know we have a place to stay, but it’s just more of a struggle,” Alice said.

Jess Fernandez hopes he and Alice will be in their own place by the end of the year.

 Reposted with permission from CBS. 

First-of-its-Kind Study Identifies Institutional Racism as Main Driver of Black Homelessness

More than 100 county, city, and community leaders gathered today to highlight racial disparities and address systemic racism in public policy affecting Black people experiencing homelessness across Los Angeles County.

Black people make up 9% of the population of LA County, but more than one-third of its population experiencing homelessness—an overrepresentation that is consistent demographically across other jurisdictions in the United States. A groundbreaking new report by LAHSA’s Ad Hoc Committee on Black People Experiencing Homelessness sheds light on why, and puts forth a broad set of targeted recommendations to reverse this injustice.

The report, a culmination of nine months of work by the 26-member Ad Hoc Committee, includes 67 recommendations to create a broad framework that will advance equity and eliminate disparities that impact Black people experiencing homelessness across LA County. The report is the first step of a dynamic process of collaboration between stakeholders to implement recommendations, which include interweaving a racial equity lens throughout homelessness policy and service delivery systems as well as across public, private, and philanthropic institutions.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas speaks to more than 100 county, city, and community leaders. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

A theme that cut across the committee’s work was that racism, discrimination, and unconscious bias in our public systems and institutions has contributed to, and remains intertwined with, homelessness. Ending homelessness will require a collective commitment to dismantling racism and addressing racial disparities, and sustained support from funders, policymakers, mainstream systems of care, service providers, and community partners. The report highlights persistent cases of systemic bias in policies affecting housing, employment, criminal justice, and child welfare—and identifies ways to advance racial equity in our homeless services system.

“This report is a critical first step to address the collective failings of systems and institutions that—de facto and de jure—have been designed to deliver the painful disparities that affect so many of our brothers and sisters,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.  “Hard work lies ahead to counter this tragic inheritance. If our region is to prosper, it is not only a moral imperative, it is an absolute economic imperative that all who call Los Angeles home are able to attain their full measure of dignity and self-worth.”

“This study finally proves what we have known all along: that there is a clear connection between race and homelessness,” said Los Angeles City Councilmember Curren Price. “In order for us to fully address the humanitarian crisis of our time, we will have to take the corrective steps to combat racial inequality and disparities in America. I wholeheartedly believe that we can and will overcome such a catastrophe so as long as we come together, get to the root of the problem and deal with this emergency with urgency. The time is now.”

“We have long understood the painful reality that a disproportionate number of African-Americans are caught in the grip of homelessness—and we have to be more intentional about how to confront and end this crisis,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “This report puts the spotlight where it needs to be, and helps us focus efforts on the individuals, families, and communities that need the most help.”

(left to right) Councilmember Curren Price, LAHSA Commission Chair Kelli Bernard, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Ad Hoc Committee Chair Jacqueline Waggoner, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Rev. Cecil L. Murray, LA County Mental Health Commissioner with Lived Experience Reba Stevens, Race Forward President Glenn Harris. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

“Homelessness is the greatest issue facing Los Angeles and racism is amplifying the impacts of economic inequality and housing access,” said Los Angeles City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson. “Now is the time to directly address the root causes of homelessness and racism remains one of the biggest causes.”

LAHSA Commissioner Jacqueline Waggoner, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee and VP and Southern California Market Leader of Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

“This report is a launching pad for a new level of collaboration,” said LAHSA Commissioner Jacqueline Waggoner, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee and VP and Southern California Market Leader of Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. “It reflects a diversity of voices, including people who have experienced homelessness, service providers, and community members, and creates a blueprint for change. This is just the beginning of the work, and we will keep applying a racial equity lens to our systems and policies as we move forward.”

“Only by acknowledging and naming the painful truth about how our systems and policies have created these unjust racial disparities can we do the hard work together to reverse them,” said Kelli Bernard, chair of the LAHSA Commission and vice chair of the Ad Hoc committee. “I’m hopeful about the impact we can make by attacking these systemic obstacles in such an intentional way, and the lives that can be changed for the better as a result.”

A summary of insights and recommendations from the report is listed below. Additional resources:

LA County CDC & HACoLA Executive Director Monique King-Viehland. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

Summary of Key Insights from the Report

  • For lasting change to occur, institutional barriers across agencies and mainstream systems must be dismantled to eliminate the racial disparities and systemic racism affecting Black people experiencing homelessness.
  • The mounting affordable housing crisis across the state, especially in the Los Angeles region, paired with persistently low, stagnant, and declining wages, exacerbates homelessness and particularly affects Black people.
  • The interconnectedness of incarceration and homelessness creates a revolving door that only serves to make the plight of homelessness more challenging and complex.
  • Black people experiencing homelessness have disproportionately high rates of child welfare system involvement.
  • Care and empathy are crucial components of outreach and case management services—and of policy and program design. These components must be embedded within agency leadership and decision-making bodies that support direct service delivery. When asked, “What would have kept you from becoming homeless?” participants, in different words, responded, “having someone who cared about me.”
  • The inclusion of Black people with lived experience of homelessness in all aspects of program and policy design, implementation, evaluation, and service delivery, is critical to ensuring that programs and services effectively meet the needs of those they are intended to serve.
  • The quality of interim housing varies across facilities, and for some, living in a shelter can be a traumatizing or re-traumatizing experience.
  • Despite local investment to expand the permanent housing resources within the Los Angeles County Coordinated Entry System (CES), a gap in housing availability remains, as the number of participants in need of permanent housing resources greatly exceeds the available supply.
  • This scarcity of resources often results in people living in unsheltered conditions or in interim housing for extended periods of time. Although CES appears to place Black people experiencing homelessness into housing at proportional rates, Black people served through CES permanent housing interventions experienced a higher rate of returns to homelessness than all other race and ethnic groups. This points to a significant need for further research to better understand what is causing this disparity and what additional supports are needed to improve housing stability and retention.

Summary of Report Recommendations

  • Improve data collection, analysis, and collaborative research to better understand and track issues affecting Black people experiencing homelessness.
  • Advance racially equitable policies, programs, and funding across institutions, including LAHSA, homeless service providers, and city and county agencies.
  • Enhance cross-system collaboration and partnerships to more effectively prevent and reduce the time spent in homelessness and improve housing retention and stability for Black people experiencing homelessness.
  • Expand capacity building and training opportunities to ensure service providers understand the impact of institutional racism and racial bias on Black people experiencing homelessness.
  • Target investments and funding enhancements to initiatives aimed at reducing disparities and ensuring sufficient funding for services and programs supporting Black people experiencing homelessness.
  • Implement targeted improvements to service delivery within the Los Angeles County CES and other systems of care in which Black people experiencing homelessness are overrepresented, to address barriers and improve outcomes for Black people.
  • Expand advocacy at federal, state, and local government levels for progressive and racially equitable policies, programs, and (direct or indirect) funding impacting Black people experiencing homelessness.

The State Steps Up on Homelessness

Statement by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas on the Creation of a Statewide Commission on Homelessness and Affordable Housing


“I applaud Governor Gavin Newsom for creating the Commission on Homelessness and Affordable Housing and enabling the State of California to have a larger role in tackling the defining civic and moral crises of our time.

“Los Angeles County is the epicenter of these crises, accounting for about 40 percent of the state’s homeless population. Almost exactly two years ago, we took the unprecedented step of declaring a state of emergency and placing Measure H on the ballot. This initiative has now taken tens of thousands of people off the streets and into housing, and prevented many more of our neighbors from falling into homelessness.

“Given the dire shortage of affordable housing, however, the situation remains tenuous. I applaud the Governor for stepping up to the plate, and I look forward to working with Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the Commission to continue developing innovative and effective strategies to address homelessness.”