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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.”

A Fair Chance at a Fresh Start

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas speaks at the launch of on the steps of the Hall of Administration. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

Los Angeles County launched the Fair Chance Campaign, urging businesses to give all competent job applicants a fair chance at employment, including those seeking a fresh start after being in the justice system.

“Hiring justice-involved individuals is not only good for business, but provides an opportunity to transform lives,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “Stable employment can help individuals reenter society with the tools they need to lead healthy and productive lives, leading to greater safety in our communities.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Hilda L. Solis coauthored motions to establish fair chance hiring policies for those seeking LA County government jobs, and to create a fair chance ordinance for businesses that contract with LA County or do business with unincorporated areas.

“Today, we challenge employers to think outside the box when making their hiring decisions,” Supervisor Solis said. “Studies clearly show that hiring rehabilitated people with past records is a smart business move: they work harder, stay longer, and promote faster than other employees. LA County also offers incentives and support to businesses that hire individuals who have been justice-involved. Everyone deserves a fair chance to get back on their feet – and when they do, everyone benefits.”

The Fair Chance Campaign does not seek to give anyone preferential treatment, nor does it call for hiring an unqualified person with an arrest or conviction record. Instead, it is intended to eliminate discriminatory obstacles for competent candidates, with the goal of boosting the economy, promoting public safety, and reducing dependence on public benefits.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Vincent Bragg, who founded the advertising agency ConCreates. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

Research shows approximately one in three working-age Americans has a felony criminal record and up to 65 percent of individuals released from incarceration are unemployed a year after release. Yet, according to the Society of Human Resource Managers, the largest human resource professional organization in the world, 82 percent of managers believe the quality of work by formerly incarcerated individual is just as high or even higher than that of the rest of their workforce.

“There is a great need for work opportunities among members of the reentry community,” said Vincent Bragg, who founded the advertising agency ConCreates after leaving prison and is one of many reentry success stories. “Too many of us have been undervalued and overlooked because of complex circumstances. It is vital to have programs like this that can help move the needle toward meaningful change.”

“We have been hiring reentry individuals for several years and can attest to the dedication, reliability and incredible work ethic of our justice-involved employees,” AMS Fulfillment chief workforce development officer Ken Wiseman said. “It is great to see the County offering incentives to businesses that hire from this pool of qualified, talented people.”

As part of the Fair Chance Campaign, business executives will be asked to sign the Fair Chance Hiring Pledge, which is a commitment to provide justice-involved individuals a fair chance to participate and to thrive in our economy by promoting fair chance hiring practices.

Companies that sign the pledge will receive guidance from County Business Services Representatives who will work with them to recruit and keep qualified candidates. The County connects businesses to tax credits, training reimbursement, and other resources when they hire qualified workers who were once incarcerated.

The Fair Chance Hiring Campaign also seeks to raise awareness of California’s Fair Chance Act, which went into effect in January 2018. The law generally prohibits businesses with more than five employees from asking about a job candidate’s criminal record before tendering a conditional job offer.

LA County Ends Legacy of Brown Water at Sativa

Audit Prompts Investigation of Previous Management

Clean water flows after improvements are made to Sativa’s water system. Photo courtesy of LA County Public Works

Just ten months after taking over the troubled Sativa Water District, Los Angeles County announced dramatic improvements have been made to the once-neglected water system, ensuring 6,800 customers in Willowbrook and Compton that they can reliably expect clean and clear water when they turn on their taps.

At the same time, the County released an audit that indicates hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not more – in potentially questionable spending by Sativa’s previous management. The matter has been referred to law enforcement.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas announces Los Angeles County Public Works has assumed management of the Sativa Water District as customers celebrate on November 1, 2018. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

“When the County stepped in to operate Sativa after years of neglect by its previous management, we promised to create a transparent and accountable process to deliver clean and clear water to its customers,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “Today, we have made good on that commitment, and we intend to help ensure that the water system is sustainable in the long-term.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas spearheaded the unprecedented effort to have Los Angeles County Public Works temporarily assume control of Sativa and stabilize its aging water system until a permanent administrator can be installed, a process that could take 18 to 24 months.

“This isn’t just about clean water – this is about justice,” added Board Chair Janice Hahn. “This community was forced to deal with dirty tap water in their homes for years. As we work to repair this water system and bring clean water to this community, we are also handing over the results of our audit to the proper authorities so anyone responsible for a crime can be held accountable.”

Public Works used cutting-edge technology to thoroughly flush Sativa’s water system, built new pipes to improve water circulation, and established connections to emergency water sources to ensure customers get clean and clear water.

With a deep cleaning project now completed, Public Works is preparing to transition Sativa to a permanent administrator, and has released a solicitation for proposals.

Public Works Director Mark Pestrella meets with Sativa customers. Photo courtesy of LA County Public Works

“Sativa was a water system in crisis when the County took it over in November 2018,” said Public Works Director Mark Pestrella. “Working with the community, we invested considerable resources and technology into upgrading the system and providing Sativa customers with the safe, clean, reliable and sustainable water service they deserve.”

“Work was done as promised, and there’s no brown water,” Sativa customer Elizabeth Hicks said.  “LA County completed the work with integrity and stepped up. Our community is receiving improved water quality, and the customer service for all the residents has improved a lot. I am very proud of Public Works. They have the necessary resources to deliver for the communities of Willowbrook and Compton. There were too many conflicts  and not enough resources before but, since Public Works stepped in, they changed everything.”

Immediately after taking over as interim administrator, Public Works discovered Sativa’s bank accounts were essentially empty and bills totaling at least $30,000 were unpaid. An independent auditor was brought on board to perform a financial audit of Sativa’s financial statements for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018.

The audit found that under Sativa’s previous management:

  • approximately $1 million of loan funds intended to finance the acquisition and construction of a well appeared to have been used for other District purposes;
  • expenditures exceeded revenues by approximately $700,000;
  • as much as $385,000 in cash disbursement transactions could not be substantiated by supporting documents;
  • an additional $92,000 in debit card charges could not be substantiated by supporting documents; and
  • an additional $84,000 in cash disbursement transactions appear to be “non-legitimate” and “could possibly involve improper and/or unlawful actions.”

While the audit was ongoing, Public Works began the first phase of sorely needed repairs, maintenance and upgrades to Sativa’s infrastructure, which consists of two aging wells, one with high levels of manganese that gave the water supply a brown hue, and narrow pipes rife with sediment.

Public Works Principal Engineer Russ Bryden supervises a crew upgrading Sativa’s water system. Photo courtesy of LA County Public Works

Over the summer, Public Works reestablished an emergency water connection with the City of Compton and created a temporary water connection to the neighboring water system operated by Liberty Utilities. Both will serve as alternate water sources for Sativa customers.

Public Works also employed a state-of-the-art filtration system to clean out the old pipes and added new pipes in strategic locations to improve water circulation.

Much of the work was done overnight to minimize service disruptions and limit potential brown water spikes that might be triggered by flushing. Sativa customers were provided with bottled water for drinking, cooking and hygiene in the event of service disruptions.

The next phases include completely rebuilding Sativa’s two aging wells and creating a treatment system to remove the manganese. Work is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.

Public Works regularly engaged Sativa customers to give them advance notice about infrastructure improvements, explain the process, and build trust. Public Works also sought their input about what the incoming permanent administrator should prioritize. The next community meeting is planned for September 14th at Sativa Headquarters.

 

Statement by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas on President Trump Pushing for a Crackdown on Homelessness in California

A member of LA’s Countywide Benefits Entitlement Services Team offers help to a woman staying at a homeless shelter. Photo by Michael Owen Baker/Countywide Communications

“If President Trump really wants to help, he should declare this what it is – a state of emergency. He should bring to bear an arsenal of resources – fiscal support, relief from regulatory burdens, and the reversal of discriminatory policies that his administration has sponsored – so we can immediately build a larger safety net and help people get off the streets immediately.”