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Statement by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas on the Recommendations of the Governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors

Governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors at the Office of Governor Gavin Newsom. Photo by Carl Castas / Board of Supervisors

Statement by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas on the Recommendations of the Governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors, released January, 13, 2020

“I want to thank the Governor for his leadership on this issue. I also want to acknowledge my co-chair, Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who has pushed us all to think more compassionately and courageously about how to end homelessness across California. Additional thanks go to the Governor’s staff, especially Mark Ghaly, Jason Elliot and Mark Tollefson, for all that they have done supporting this Council. Finally, thank you to my fellow Council members.

“What you will see today reflects collective action at its best. The latest data shows that more than 150,000 people are homeless in California. In my home region, Los Angeles County, there are almost 60,000 people who are homeless. Without a doubt, we face a crisis. And if we accept that we have a crisis on our hands, then it warrants an urgent and comprehensive crisis response.

“In the Governor’s September 26th letter to this Council, he focused on three areas:

  • ending street homelessness;
  • breaking down barriers to building more housing; and
  • getting more people into treatment.

“The Council’s interim report and 40-point Comprehensive Crisis Response Strategy does this.

“Urgency has driven these recommendations.Organized according to the Governor’s three focus areas, the Comprehensive Crisis Response strategy provides a package of legislative and budgetary actions.

“Here, I want to acknowledge and thank the Governor for his recent budgetary and executive order announcement. They implement many of the recommendations in the Comprehensive Crisis Response Strategy. And his actions reflect a true partnership with the Council over the past five months. Indeed, the Governor is scaling up models we’ve seen piloted in Los Angeles that will now be expanded statewide, for example:

  • LA County’s Flexible Housing Subsidy;
  • LA County’s Office of Diversion and Re-Entry; and
  • LA County’s Whole People Care pilots.

“And today, as a Council, we deliver a complementary roadmap that will:

  • Bring people home by expediting the building of permanent housing and service-enriched interim housing;
  • Capitalize on the use of public land;
  • Keep people housed, once they are housed with flexible subsidies and services;
  • Break the vicious cycle between jails, hospitals and homelessness;
  • Use state mental health and Medi-Cal dollars to better target vulnerable populations.

“These actions will demand the full weight of our collective resources, engagement, and know-how.As leaders of this great state, let’s put our shoulders to the wheel, so that all who reside in California may attain lives of dignity and worth. Thank you.”

Governor’s Advisors on Homelessness Recommend Comprehensive Crisis Response

Governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors meets in Sacramento to issue their interim recommendations to Governor Gavin Newsom.

Governor Gavin Newsom received a series of recommendations from his Council of Regional Homeless Advisors, including a 40-point Comprehensive Crisis Response Strategy and a proposal to establish a statewide mandate that would require local and state government to create the housing and supportive service capacity necessary to substantially reduce homelessness.

The 13-member Council, chaired by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, emphasized that “urgency should drive our response” and that homelessness must be viewed as “a humanitarian crisis tantamount to any sustained natural disaster.” A quarter of the nation’s homeless population – about 150,000 people — lives in California, more than half of them outdoors.

The Council report recommends the Legislature place a constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot that would create a “legally enforceable, results-based, accountability mandate” requiring state and local governments to provide resources for and remove barriers to the creation of both interim and permanent housing. The Council recommends making the mandate legally enforceable through a public right of action in the courts.

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.

“Everyone agrees that homelessness is a crisis of epic proportions, yet everything that government does to alleviate it is currently voluntary,” said Mayor Steinberg. “There is no housing production requirement, there is no requirement to bring people indoors, there is no legal consequence for failing to do so.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said, “The Comprehensive Crisis Response Strategy is a road map for boldly addressing the moral and civic crisis of our time. We thank the Governor for appointing this Council and for recognizing that we are in the midst of an emergency, and that we need ingenuity and prudence to right the course of our State’s history.”

In its letter to the Governor, the Council said, “California must have a set of clear public policies that scale up what we know works to prevent and end homelessness to a level required to abate this mounting catastrophe, that rationally prioritizes housing and services based on need, and that prevents the dramatic spike in homelessness for ever happening again.”

Quotes from members of the Governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors:

“Homelessness has been devastating for extremely low-income Californians, particularly for communities of color, and for far too long we have refused to make the structural changes necessary to address the root causes,” said Anya Lawler, Policy Advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “The crisis may seem intractable, but with thoughtful policy, adequate resources, and a sustained commitment to evidence-based solutions, we can turn things around. I am heartened that my fellow council members all agree that ending homelessness is both a moral imperative and an obligation on the part of all levels of government. Nobody should lack access to safe, stable, permanent housing they can afford and the resources they need to thrive in the 5th largest economy in the world. We can and must do better to tackle this crisis humanely. I look forward to continuing to work with the Governor, the co-chairs, and the council to get the job done.”

“Our report reflects not only the imperative for urgency in responding to our crisis of homelessness, but also the critical dimension of ensuring that all state resources – existing and newly proposed —must be employed in a way that ensures both seamless collaboration and mutual accountability between all local governments in each region; and ensuring that these resources are rigorously directed towards proven housing-first services for unsheltered people, and to very narrowly targeted and evidence-based prevention services for uniquely vulnerable populations,” said Will Lightbourne, former Director of California’s Department of Social Services.

“The evolution of the Task Force strategy from burdening homeless people to obligating elected leaders to resolve the crisis is a tribute to the patient and insightful leadership of Chairs Steinberg and Ridley-Thomas,” indicated Task Force Member Philip Mangano, formerly homeless czar under Presidents Bush and Obama. “They navigated the flurry of ideas from across the state and in the Task Force to craft a strategic frame to resolve unsheltered homelessness for the state’s Homelessness Czar, Governor Newsom.”

“The Council’s findings are both a clear call for all levels of government to commit to dramatically reduce homelessness and a reasonable framework to achieve that goal – a call to urgency that is reflected Governor Newsom’s budget proposal. Even as our county human assistance departments work diligently to deliver supportive services and housing to people experiencing homelessness today, poverty and astronomical housing prices are forcing more Californians out of their homes than we can bring into shelter,” Frank Mecca,Executive Director, County Welfare Directors Association of California. “For this reason, CWDA will continue working to focus resources on prevention and early intervention, particularly for Californians over age 50 and former foster youth who are especially vulnerable to economic forces beyond their control. CWDA is grateful for the leadership of Mayor Steinberg and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, and will continue to support the Council in advancing effective, and sustainable solutions.”

“I am very hopeful with Governor Newsom’s truly significant commitment to homelessness as a priority,” said Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez. “His state budget proposal and comprehensive response provide plans of action and policies to implement in our communities and throughout the State of California. By focusing on prevention, diversion and intervention, we will no longer just deal with the symptoms, but do more to address the root causes of homelessness.”

“The letter promotes a bold vision, while acknowledging that housing solves homelessness. Toward that vision, it advances a moral and legal obligation to scale up investment, coordinate resources, and create a strong leadership structure in California,” said Sharon Rapport, Director of California State Policy for the Corporation for Supportive Housing. “I applaud the Governor and his staff for giving the Council the freedom to be bold, and the co-chairs and fellow Council members for coming together to craft this vision.”

“When something matters we make it the law. When we wanted clean drinking water, public education, or to end racial discrimination, we made it the law,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. “It’s time to make ending homelessness the law, and that must start with assuring Californians that governments will be held accountable for doing all they can with the dollars and powers they have now.”

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.

Statement from Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas on Governor Gavin Newsom’s New Executive Orders and Budget Proposals to Address Homelessness

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Governor Gavin Newsom in downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row t0 discuss ways to address the crisis of homelessness (file photo).

“What a relief to have a Governor who recognizes that our homeless crisis is not going to go away on its own. Our Golden State – the fifth largest economy in the world – has for far too long not been golden for everyone. The Governor recognizes this for what it is – an undeniable emergency – and is showing that he can bring to bear both ingenuity and prudence to right the course of our State’s history.

“He is using his unique authority to propose Executive Orders that will harness the State’s real estate and human capital in ways never proposed before to confront this humanitarian crisis – along with the funding to back it up.

“We are standing on the precipice of the comprehensive crisis response we have long been calling for and desperately need.

“When the Governor appointed me to co-chair his Council of Regional Homeless Advisors, I knew he meant business. And I am pleased that the work we have done and continue to do has helped lay the foundation for this response. And we are not done yet.”

New Study Shows LA County Can Safely Divert Thousands of People with Mental Illness from Jail into Treatment

On any given day, 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, according to a new study by the nonprofit RAND Corp.

A significant proportion of this population is likely to be homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Conducted in response to a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Kathryn Barger, the independent research noted about 5,400 of the County’s average daily inmate population – nearly one-third — are in mental health housing units and/or have been prescribed psychotropic medications.

The Board of Supervisors takes up the RAND report. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors.

Of that total, RAND concluded 61 percent meet the criteria currently used by the County’s Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR) to determine whether an individual may be put forward to the courts as a candidate for diversion. An additional 7 percent are also potentially eligible for diversion, while 32 percent are not, according to the study.

RAND said 74 percent of women and 59 percent of men with a mental health disorder in County jail are appropriate candidates for diversion.

RAND recommended expanding diversion programs and better tracking their outcomes. It also urged the County to improve its early diversion efforts, which may be able to help people before they enter the criminal justice system. For example, some jurisdictions intervene at the point of law enforcement contact.

RAND behavioral scientist Stephanie Brooks presents the study’s findings to the Board of Supervisors. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors.

“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.

RAND’s findings echoed those of 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.

Since its creation in 2016, ODR has diverted more than 4,400 people from County jails to long-term care and supportive housing, with very low rates of reoffending. Among those placed in the ODR Housing program, 90 percent have remained housed after six months.

The Los Angeles County Office of Diversion and Reentry’s Dr. Kristen Ochoa and Judge (ret.) Peter Espinoza. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors.

Diversion programs cost the County about $70 daily per person, while incarceration costs about $600 daily per person with serious clinical needs.

“No one can get well in a cell,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion that created ODR. “With diversion, we are creating better outcomes for people and saving County resources — without compromising public safety.”

“Diversion is also breaking the cycle between jail and homelessness, enabling those with mental health disorders to get treatment instead of the costly alternative of serving additional time behind bars and then being released with no support,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “RAND’s research underscores the need to double down on diversion to reach all those who could benefit.”

Graphic courtesy of the RAND Corporation.