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NBC: Homeless Youth Helped by Measure H

Reposted from NBC News.

Homelessness in Los Angeles County spiked by 12 percent over the past year to reach an estimated 58,936 people, according to figures released June 4.

Click here to see the results of the 2019 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, which ties the increase to the region’s housing costs outpacing wages and forcing people onto the streets faster than authorities can find them shelter.

According to figures released by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, nearly three-quarters of homeless people are living in cars, tents, makeshift shelters or on the streets without any apparent cover from the elements.

“We have the largest unsheltered population in the nation and one of the largest homeless counts across America. Only New York has more people experiencing homelessness on any given night,” according to LAHSA Executive Director Peter Lynn.

The city of Los Angeles saw a 16 percent increase in its numbers.

The estimates aren’t just to illustrate the extent of the problem. They’re used to help allocate state and federal resources. Much of the count happened at night. In areas that were difficult to reach, like river beds, law enforcement helped out.

Though the number of chronically homeless individuals has increased by 17 percent, demographers and statisticians responsible for the count said they believe the real issue is the inflow of newly homeless people.

Phil Ansell, who runs the county’s Homeless Initiative said it may seem counterintuitive, but “a booming economy can actually lead to an increase in homelessness.”

He said that in a growing economy, rental rates have outpaced wages, particularly for people living at the margins and making minimum wage. A minimum-wage employee would have to work 79 hours a week at $13.25 per hour to afford the rent in an average one-bedroom apartment, Lynn said.

The numbers are up despite tens of thousands of people who have moved off the streets and into permanent housing. In the last year alone, the county has helped 21,631 people find permanent homes and another 27,080 who were homeless at some point during the year were able to lift themselves out of homelessness, according to the data.

But officials say more needs to be done to increase the supply of affordable housing and prevent other families from falling into homelessness. Los Angeles County officials said they are adding strategies geared at combating economic factors. When the Board of Supervisors approved $460 million in Measure H spending on homelessness three weeks ago, it focused on finding ways to offset rising rental rates and provide opportunities for steady employment through an employment task force and jobs training program.

County officials have backed a bill to speed conversions of motels into supportive housing units and is considering housing homeless veterans at the Bob Hope Patriotic Hall downtown, among other local efforts to increase the amount of shelter space, bridge housing and permanent supportive housing units.

The county has also put a 3 percent cap on rental increases in unincorporated areas and is backing statewide legislation to limit rents and prevent landlords from unjustly evicting tenants. However, California voters rejected a 2018 proposal to give local governments more latitude to enact rent controls.

There is a pipeline of more than 10,000 affordable units, but only 1,397 are on track to be available in fiscal year 2019-20. However, Ansell said the state can take action immediately on three key issues that could help alleviate the problem sooner, including pending legislation prohibiting rent gouging, evictions without cause and discrimination against renters with housing subsidies.

Statement on the Passing of LASD Deputy Joseph Solano

“It’s with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Deputy Joseph Solano. I offer my deepest condolences to his family, who lost a loved-one, and to his colleagues in the Sherriff’s department who lost a dear friend. In the face of danger and threats Deputy Solano was known to answer the call. As the details of this tragic event continue to unfold, and we learn the specifics, we will honor his life by standing together and looking out for one another, so that justice is served and his untimely passing will not be in vain.”

Paradigm Shift for Youth with Mental Health Needs in the Justice System

As part of a significant shift to a “care-first” approach to juvenile justice, and to reduce excessive force in Los Angeles County’s probation camps and juvenile halls, the Board of Supervisors called for a plan to divert youth with mental health needs away from locked facilities, and to increase mental health services for youth who remain incarcerated. The motion was in response to growing concerns about inadequate treatment, documented in reports by the County’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) and Department of Mental Health (DMH).

“Failure to provide mental health services to justice-involved youth in our care is not a new problem. The US Department of Justice documented these issues back in 2003 and yet, over 15 years later, the County continues to struggle. This is unacceptable,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, lead author of the motion, said. “The current approach of juvenile incarceration is currently re-traumatizing youth and making the facilities less safe. These sobering findings lead to the unavoidable conclusion that a fundamental paradigm shift to a ‘care first’ model is required to achieve rehabilitation and public safety. We cannot allow the status quo to continue.”

“Our probation halls and camps are not meeting the mental health needs of our youth and we need a new approach,” added Supervisor Janice Hahn, co-author of the motion. “Whenever possible, we will divert kids with mental illness out of custody and into community-based treatment. At the same time, we will invest in dramatically improving the mental health services available for the youth who remain in our care.”

In its February 2019 report on safety concerns in juvenile justice facilities, the Inspector General found incidents of youth on psychotropic medication being pepper sprayed, as well as other alarming violations of protocol. In response, the Board asked DMH to assess the mental health needs of youth in County juvenile facilities.

Among the report’s most significant findings is that more than 90 percent of youth in the juvenile halls in 2018 had an open mental health case, representing a 38 percent increase since 2015. These youth are also more likely to have experienced homelessness and commercial sexual exploitation, which aggravate their underlying mental health issues. To address rather than exacerbate this trauma, DMH called for shifting to a “care first” model, including diversion, alternative placements, and increased mental health staff for those that remain in custody. Today’s motion by Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Hahn seeks to find ways to implement these and other DMH recommendations.

“We believe in care for kids whose lives have been turned upside down by trauma and are in need of treatment, not punishment. Unfortunately, our current systems are not only incompatible with care delivery but also reinforce unhealthy narratives,” DMH Director Jonathan Sherin said. “We need reform and are going for it ‘all in’ as a County with steadfast leadership from the Board of Supervisors and guidance from the community.”

Peter Espinoza, director of the County’s Office of Diversion and Reentry, said his office “understands the importance of providing community-based alternatives for young people who suffer from a mental disorder, and is poised to build on the County’s existing youth diversion model to do so. Diverting young people away from incarceration improves not only health and education outcomes but also decreases their likelihood of reoffending.”

Supervisors Approve Ordinance Against Housing Discrimination

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas with tenants at 127th Street Apartments and El Segundo Boulevard Apartments. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

The Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an ordinance that would ban landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants who receive government-issued rental assistance, such as Section 8 vouchers.

Though the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968, implementation of its guarantees has fallen short. A 2018 Housing and Urban Development survey found that prospective tenants with Section 8 vouchers have a 76 percent denial rate when applying for housing in Los Angeles.

“Addressing pervasive housing discrimination is a critical part of our comprehensive strategy to stabilize and create more opportunity in our housing marketplace,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, co-author of the motion that called for the ordinance. “The ordinance will not force landlords to rent to a voucher-holder, but simply prevent ruling them out as a tenant based solely on their source of income.”

“Implementation of the nation’s Fair Housing Act is 50 years overdue,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, lead author of the motion. “With today’s action, LA County is saying we will wait no longer. Discrimination in housing is exacerbating our housing and homelessness crisis by allowing landlords to discriminate and deny leases to families who want and can pay for housing.”

Los Angeles County Development Authority (LACDA) Executive Director Monique King-Viehland said in a letter to the Board, “In a County with less than a 3% vacancy rate and approximately 38,000 individuals/families on the County’s waiting list for Section 8 housing, this form of discrimination further limits the rental inventory for rental subsidy assisted families and is thereby effectively eliminating housing choice options.”

According to the California Housing Partnership Corporation, the County has a shortage of about 517,000 affordable housing units.

The Board approved the ordinance after adopting a motion by Supervisors Kuehl and Ridley-Thomas in January that called for “Creating Solutions to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing in Los Angeles County.” The motion directed County Counsel, in consultation with LACDA, to prepare an ordinance that would prevent landlord discrimination against housing applicants with government-provided rental assistance including, but not limited to, Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, other federally-funded rental assistance programs, the Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool and rapid re-housing rental assistance.

The ordinance complements $5 million committed by the Board to fund a database for tracking evictions, a displacement study, incentives for landlords to take Section 8 tenants, and educational programs on housing rights.

The ordinance had been recommended by the Los Angeles Housing Services Authority’s Ad Hoc Committee on Black People Experiencing Homelessness. It is also among the policies that Board is seeking at the State level, along with preventing price gouging and tenant evictions without just cause.

Statement by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas on the Alternatives to Incarceration Working Group Interim Report

“I am thankful to the Alternatives to Incarceration Working Group and its leaders for accomplishing so much in a very short amount of time. What they have done is extraordinary.”

Ribbon Cutting for the Exodus Mental Health Urgent Care Center at Harbor-UCLA. Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

“They are putting together a roadmap that centers care and treatment as the primary priority, and incarceration as a tool of last resort. For the system, it represents a shift in paradigm to a care first ethos that internalizes the challenges faced by our justice-involved.”

“Additionally, while this interim report makes clear that the County must do much more to increase our alternatives to incarceration, the fact that the Working Group incorporated so much of the infrastructure that we’ve already built – such as the Office of Diversion and Reentry, psychiatric urgent care centers and sobering centers, as well as the state-of-the-art MLK Behavioral Health Center – signals we are heading in the right direction.”

“I look forward to seeing, and acting on, the “Final Roadmap.”  I am confident it will help us to avoid unnecessary incarceration as well as support individuals and families to stay housed and employed, further disrupting the vicious cycle between jails and homelessness.”

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Cutting the ribbon at the grand opening of the Dr. David L. Murphy Sobering Center in Skid Row.   (Photos by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors)