County Leverages Technology to Predict and Prevent Homelessness

Los Angeles County now has the ability to predict which residents have a high risk of becoming homeless.  The new predictive model, developed by the California Policy Lab and the University of Chicago Poverty Lab, uses Los Angeles County data to predict those most likely to become homeless soon.

“The County is leveraging groundbreaking cutting-edge technology to predict and prevent homelessness,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “This is a critical element of the comprehensive crisis response we must mount to combat homelessness.”

Of the people who were identified as at the highest risk of experiencing homelessness almost half actually became homeless and people in this group were 27 times more likely to become homeless as compared to the average person receiving services from L.A. County.

The findings are at the heart of the action plan created by a County-led Mainstream Systems Homelessness Prevention Workgroup made up of County policy makers and expert stakeholders and submitted to the Board of Supervisors today. The recommendations in the action plan will be executed beginning next year. Funding for these innovative tactics will come from County departments and Measure H. A total of $3 million in Measure H funding has been earmarked to support initial implementation of these strategies.

The proposed interventions are urgently needed to address the continuing surge of people becoming homeless in Los Angeles County every day.

“Last year, despite providing housing to tens of thousands of people, we saw more and more individuals and families becoming homeless,” said Phil Ansell, the director of Los Angeles County’s Homeless Initiative. “L.A. County is focused on using strategic approaches to preventing homelessness, and these groundbreaking models will make it possible to reach those who need us the most before they reach the crisis point and fall into homelessness.”

In 2018, it is estimated that 133 people were housed each day but 150 more fell into homelessness.

The action plan includes using the following data-driven tactics:

  • Using the predictive model, generate a list of clients county-wide who are at highest risk of homelessness and currently receiving County services, such as CalFresh and General Relief. The predictive models show that using a data-driven approach, the County can identify individuals receiving those and other services who are almost 30 times more likely to become homeless than the average County client.
  • Explore piloting a centralized, multi-disciplinary Homelessness Prevention Unit to target and package services county-wide for a generated high-risk list of County clients. This cross-agency team would help coordinate outreach and services to those at highest risk of becoming homeless.
  • Using the predictive model, generate a list of families receiving cash aid from the CalWORKS program who are at highest risk of homelessness to target for additional services.
  • The refinement of Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) intake protocols to prompt enrollment in County homelessness prevention programs as a primary response to housing instability. Research has shown that two-thirds of families experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County had child welfare involvement prior to becoming homeless and that more than 50% of these engaged households did not end up having an open case for DCFS services, suggesting that identification and treatment for housing instability at the time of DCFS intake may have prevented homelessness for these households and reduced trauma.
  • Explore using predictive model to generate a list of DCFS/Probation- connected transition age youth at highest risk of homelessness for proactive outreach by DCFS. This would mirror the predictive model for single adults but would be refined for this specific population.

For the full action plan, please click here.

“Predictive modeling can help ensure that homelessness prevention services are getting to the right people, at the right time, before they’re in a full-blown crisis,” explains Janey Rountree, executive director of the California Policy Lab (UCLA). “We look forward to seeing its impact in connecting people to the help they need.”

“The models suggest that sharp spikes in service use, increasingly frequent service use, and the receipt of multiple services from a single agency are all warning signs that someone living in deep poverty is at high risk for homelessness,” said Harold Pollack, the Helen Ross Professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, a co-author of the predictive analytics study and co-director of the Chicago Health Lab. “We’re now diving deeper into the models with our L.A. County partners to learn more and to see how these results can help focus public health and social services to this vulnerable population.”

The predictive models research used anonymized data from seven L.A. County agencies about services they provided to L.A. County residents between 2012 and 2016. Researchers developed models to predict which residents were most likely to become homeless in 2017. The research team then checked the accuracy of their model’s predictions against County records to see who actually became homeless in 2017.

Of the 3,000 people whom the model identified as at highest risk of experiencing homelessness in 2017, 46 percent actually became homeless, according to the researchers. People in this group were 27 times more likely to become homeless than the average County client. Researchers also identified 3,000 L.A. County residents who were at the highest risk of first-time homelessness. Of this predicted group, one in three subsequently became homeless, and people in this group were 48 times more likely to become homeless for the first time than the average County client.

For more information on the predictive models, visit the California Policy Lab’s website.

POLITICO: Liberal California looks to get tougher on homelessness


Published with permission from POLITICO. Click here for the full story and photos.

OAKLAND — California has had enough with its homeless problem.

The liberal stronghold is losing patience with the sprawling homeless encampments, the growing ranks of people with mental illnesses and substance abuse on the streets, and the deteriorating quality of life that comes with it — human waste, trash and open-air drug dealing.

State officials are weighing more aggressive tactics to deal with the escalating crisis of people with mental and physical illnesses living on the streets, downplaying concerns increasingly raised by advocates worried about potential breaches of civil liberties for especially vulnerable populations.

“The crisis is so bad people’s minds are really opening up and the policies are shifting,” said Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco. “Legislation that would have had no chance five or 10 years ago can pass.”

President Donald Trump, not shy about bashing a state that’s challenged his administration more than any other, has assailed California Democratic politicians over the crisis, calling it “a disgrace to our country.” Trump has even threatened federal intervention — which might come sooner rather than later.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo | Courtesy of Politico

A Trump administration plan cracking down on homelessness in California could be ready for the president’s review in the coming weeks, The Washington Post reported last week. The administration has considered razing tent encampments and sheltering people on federal property, though the details of the forthcoming plan remain unclear. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said it has no advanced knowledge of Trump’s plans — and it has little expectation they will be welcomed in the state, which has instead pushed for more federal resources.

“The vast majority of Californians are skeptical of his intentions because the evidence suggests he’s not looking out for our best interests,” said Daniel Zingale, Newsom’s chief strategist.

The expanding homelessness crisis presents an early test for Newsom, a first-year governor with higher political aspirations. He has launched a statewide task force and is considering a version of “right to shelter,” the controversial mandate used to keep people off the streets in New York City.

Newsom has directed $1 billion toward housing and homelessness, approved legislation giving cities and counties more legal authority to build emergency shelters, and convened a homelessness task force set to deliver its first recommendations next month.

But the problem is only getting worse.

Homelessness has skyrocketed in the past two years — by 47 percent in Oakland, 42 percent in San Jose and 17 percent in San Francisco. State legislators, cities and counties are seeking new fixes.

That means voluntary is giving way to involuntary approaches. A new state law authored by Wiener makes it easier for three counties to “conserve” — or take guardianship over — homeless people with several mental illness or substance use disorders who bounce in and out of short-term psychiatric commitments. California voters could weigh in next year on a proposed ballot measure that would sentence homeless offenders to treatment instead of jail time.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County, Sacramento and several other California cities are asking the Supreme Court to review a 2018 federal appeals court decision barring cities from punishing people for sleeping on the streets if there’s a shortage of shelter beds. The cities say the decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in the case, Martin v. Boise, was sweeping and raises too many legal questions. Advocates worry that overturning the appeals court decision raises the specter of criminalizing homelessness.

“It’s simply inhumane to allow people to remain on these streets in their own vomitus, in their own feces,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-chairs the governor’s task force on homelessness. “To me, it’s not a debate about civil liberties. It’s a debate about dignity.”

Ridley-Thomas said he’s wary of the strong-arm tactics that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani used to clean up the city’s streets. Under those policies, police conducted sweeps of public places and rounded up homeless people to take them to shelters, arresting them if they refused.

“I believe we can avoid some of the undesirable aspects of the ‘right to shelter’ as it has manifested itself in New York,” Ridley-Thomas said. “But I don’t think we should lose sight of the fact that less people die on the streets in New York than they do in California.”

But greater use of involuntary methods against people with mental illness raises alarms among advocates for homeless rights and civil liberties.

“If we’re talking about involuntary care, you’re basically waiting until someone is in really bad shape before they get help,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, a San Francisco advocacy organization.

Friedenbach argues just a small number of the homeless refuse shelter if offered, and that politicians should look for something “between leaving people on the streets and locking them up” — housing, health care and behavioral treatment.

“It’s called giving people the capacity to thrive,” she said.

Policymakers agree long-term housing is the goal, but they also need to find more short-term, immediate solutions.

Three-quarters of Los Angelenos surveyed in a new poll supported a right-to-shelter law, and most equated the problem to a natural disaster. Another survey of likely voters released last week found similar levels of support for a right-to-shelter approach across the entire state.

The state’s long-standing and disproportionate problem with people living on the streets — especially those with mental illnesses — dates back more than 50 years. That’s when the state started moving patients out of state-run psychiatric institutions and into nursing and board-and-care facilities.

“This is a decades-old failure of public policy,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, co-chair on the governor’s homelessness task force and founder of the Steinberg Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for policies to help people with mental illnesses.

The hospital closures dovetailed with a landmark 1967 state law that all but ended the practice of institutionalizing people against their will. It set a policy of 72-hour holds only if a person is found to be a danger to themselves or others. This sets the bar very high in California to compel people to get treatment.

A growing chorus of policymakers, family members and mental health advocates want to revamp that law to give authorities more ability to require care.

“There has to be some sort of stability,” said Jessica Cruz, executive director of the state’s branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “If somebody is having a heart attack on the street, we run to them and provide assistance right away. If someone is having a psychiatric break, we run from them and call the police.”

But policy efforts to compel shelter or care in California have gotten pushback from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, disability rights and homeless advocacy groups.

The proposed November 2020 ballot measure allowing courts to mandate treatment for homes offenders was condemned by Disability Rights California, which said it would dump the problem on the criminal justice system and “failed models of institutionalization rather than robust community services and housing.”

Former Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gatto, who drafted the measure, said it was a sensible and compassionate approach.

“They need to be channeled into the appropriate resources, and there must a component that’s involuntary,” he said. “The calls to do things that are substantially more draconian will increase the longer government takes to solve this problem.”

Wiener, the San Francisco Democrat, has also taken flak from advocacy groups over his guardianship law, which pilots the idea in his home county, as well as Los Angeles and San Diego. Wiener rejected complaints that his measure would violate the rights of people living on the streets.

“It’s not progressive to let someone unravel and die on the street,” Wiener said.

Victoria Colliver is a health care reporter for POLITICO Pro based in California.  

Unprecedented Housing Construction for the Homeless

Los Angeles County unveiled an interactive map that shows where it has built and where it is building new interim and supportive housing at an unprecedented rate to urgently address the crisis of homelessness. In the County’s Second District,  represented by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, 6,300 interim housing units and about 4,000 supportive housing beds have been built for people experiencing homelessness. Still in the pipeline are 1,200 interim housing units and 4,900 supportive housing beds.

Called the Los Angeles County Homelessness and Housing Map, the data-driven planning tool shows newly constructed projects, as well as sites in the planning and development phases. These are then overlaid with geographic data that tracks the homeless population countywide, based on the latest Homeless Count. This first iteration of the map does not currently show apartment units being rented by people who receive public rental assistance, which account for about half of the County’s overall supportive housing stock.

“This planning tool provides a powerful and transparent road map for how we should be moving forward to address this crisis,” said County Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai, who presented the map to the Board of Supervisors. “It offers a unique visual presentation that shows the important efforts now underway but also demonstrates the hard work that lies ahead.”

The map draws on data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s January 2019 Point in Time Homeless Count, which reported nearly 59,000 people experiencing homelessness countywide —more than 44,000 of them unsheltered.

The map makes it possible to view where the homeless population lives, then adds layers that show existing supportive and interim housing, as well as housing that is currently being developed. It visually demonstrates the gaps between where the need is and where projects currently exist or are in the pipeline. Additional data and refinements will be added to the map in the months ahead.

“We need to build more and turn up the ingenuity and innovation as we construct a comprehensive crisis response strategy,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. This map helps us understand the work that remains in terms of prevention, intervention, and regulatory relief. We must work together to address homelessness and what drives it, so that anyone who calls Los Angeles home is able to live a life of dignity, worth and purpose.”



Homelessness Crisis: A State of Emergency

By Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Special to

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

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.”