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Reimagining Healing and Care at Mark Ridley-Thomas Behavioral Health Center

More than a decade after its closure, the original Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital building has completed its transformation to a new and innovative healthcare facility—as the Mark Ridley-Thomas Behavioral Health Center. In a socially-distanced ribbon cutting, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas—in collaboration with several county partners—inaugurated the state’s first ever licensed Behavior Health Center (BHC) that will provide fully-integrated inpatient, outpatient and supportive services for some of Los Angeles County’s most vulnerable populations.

“Over the last decade, we have transformed the MLK Medical Campus into a center of excellence that provides holistic care for our community,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “With the opening of the Behavioral Health Center, we are bringing to life our intent to establish a cutting-edge continuum of care that promotes mental health, recovery, trauma prevention, rehabilitation, and many other essential wrap-around services that foster long-term wellness for our patients and the community at large. I am tremendously proud of this milestone.”

Where the original Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital once stood, a $335M state-of-the-art facility now stands. The newly renamed Mark Ridley-Thomas Behavioral Center is part of more than one billion dollars invested into the medical campus to transform and support the wellness of surrounding communities. Attendees were able to get an advanced preview of the 500,000-square-foot building that included a new peer resource center, upgraded conference rooms, innovated examination rooms, a new canopy extension, exterior site improvements and more.

“With the County’s $300M plus investment, the BHC will serve the residents of LA County for many years to come with a range of services not found elsewhere. The decision to transform rather than demolish this building has proven to be a very efficient investment of County resources,” said Fesia Davenport, Los Angeles County Acting Chief Executive Officer.

Mark Pestrella, Director of Los Angeles County Public Works agreed, adding, “The transformation of the old hospital is truly astounding. The County’s investment to give life to this amazing building I think is emblematic of the mission the BHC seeks to fulfill. The completion of this transformation into a place of healing and restoration is a poetic outcome for a building that once witnessed tragedy. I am proud of the entire Public Works team and grateful for the Supervisor’s vision that made this happen.”

“Exodus is proud to be a partner in this building providing psychiatric urgent care. Having different levels of behavioral health care available within the same building removes many of the barriers that often deter clients from getting the care that they need,” said Luana Murphy, President and Chief Executive Officer of Exodus Recovery.

As the first of its kind center in the state, the BHC will house more than a half dozen County departments and partners, including clinical and behavioral staff from the Departments of Mental Health, Public Health, Public Works and Health Services. The Departments of Probation and Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services, along with the Office of Diversion and Reentry, will sponsor rehabilitative, vocational and training opportunities to give people the skills they need to reintegrate into society.

“When it comes to mental health, most facilities are not equipped to deliver a full range of behavioral health services that may be required to truly bring healing to someone in need. With an empty building on the MLK Medical Campus, we had a unique opportunity to imagine what it would be like to have a one-stop shop for all behavioral health needs. As the first of its kind in the State of California, I believe the Mark Ridley-Thomas Behavioral Health Center will set the standard for mental health care delivery, but most importantly, bring a new level of healing,” said Dr. Jonathan E. Sherin, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

“The Department of Health Services is excited to collaborate with our mental health partners along with other department to innovate delivery of care. The BHC will provide care for the body and mind, and it is our goal that when someone walks into those doors, they know they are on their way to healing and restoration,” said Dr. Christina Ghaly, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.

“We can’t provide substance use disorder services in a vacuum. It has to be delivered in collaboration with mental health, physical health, and spiritual health services. BHC allows us to create a new system of care that would integrate these different systems,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Additionally, in a comprehensive effort to create a new paradigm in the delivery of care and healing, significant attention was given to the inclusion of civic art throughout the building from local artists. The exterior art piece, created by artist Cliff Garten, was inspired by water as an image of hope and renewal. The work entitled, Water to Wishes, draws inspiration from the wishes of the community expressed during the community engagement process. The interior piece, designed by Freeland Buck, is a multi-layered mural stitching together photographs of 21 homes from the surrounding Willowbrook community.

In addition to the exterior and interior pieces, another art component that will be integrated into the center is a Martin Luther King, Jr. portrait by renowned painter, Lyle Suter. In 1972, the portrait was misplaced after it was commissioned by the Colonial Savings & Loan Association. The painting was lost for several years until it was recently discovered and restored by the conservators, Aneta Zebala and Suzanne Morris.

“Bringing new life to this building required uplifting and reinvigorating the façade–no better way to do this than with art. The building design lent itself for something dramatic and inspiring, and I couldn’t be more thrilled about the critical role that the arts have played in the transformation of this building. The civic art on the façade and the lobby let you know you have arrived at a safe space where your healing can begin,” said Kristin Sakoda, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture.

In addition to the building being inaugurated, the main street leading to the building’s doorstep has been renamed Healing Way by a Willowbrook community member in honor of the building’s transformation.

The newly renovated center is anticipated to officially open in the year 2021.

Ridley-Thomas Pushes for Increased Affordable Housing at Crenshaw Crossing

Following a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the mixed-use development planned for Metro- and County-owned lots at Exposition and Crenshaw Blvd is on track to become affordable for 200 future low and moderate income households. At the junction where the Exposition and Crenshaw Lines meet, the site is anticipated to become a hub for public transit within the region. Watt Companies, in partnership with the West Angeles Community Development Corporation, has proposed developing 40,000 square feet of commercial retail, a community space, and a 25,000 square-foot grocery store on the ground floor with 400 units of housing on the upper floors.

Initially, 81 units were planned as affordable housing. However, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas pushed to expand the number of affordable housing units within the development to ensure that the project would be accessible to households at a variety of incomes, consistent with the character and desires of the surrounding community.

Rendering of Crenshaw Crossing. Source: Watt Companies

“We have but one opportunity to get the development on this catalytic corner where the Crenshaw and Exposition Lines meet right. And right means building a model transit-oriented community with high-quality housing that the community that calls the Crenshaw Corridor home can afford,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “I am pleased to partner with Watt Companies and the West Angeles Community Development Corporation to help advance this community vision and ensure that 200 of the units will be affordable to a diverse array of low-income, moderate, and working-class individuals and families.”

There are approximately 7,100 people currently living in 2,700 households located within a half-mile of the station area, of which 53% are renter-occupied households. The median household income in the surrounding area is $39,000 per year.

“As a long-term stakeholder in this community, I look forward to the delivery of Crenshaw Crossing as it will bring much-needed new housing to the neighborhood at rents that are affordable to a wide range of people who live here,” said West Adams Neighborhood Council Land Use Chair Eva Marie Aubry.

As part of the development guidelines established by Metro at the initiation of this project, local residents such as Aubry noted the need for market rate housing as well as housing affordable to residents of the existing community, including seniors and working families. A development that incorporated housing accessible for people who have lived in the surrounding community was seen as a critical component of the development strategy.

“Various levels of rent will encourage a thriving commercial, residential and family atmosphere to the area,” said Lynetta McElroy, a leader of the Western Quadrant of Leimert Park and the president of Grayburn Avenue Block Club.

In addition to providing retail space for local small businesses to thrive, a new grocery store is anticipated to increase access to healthful foods in the surrounding area. Metro has estimates that the Crenshaw and Expo Lines will have a combined estimated ridership of over 45,000 persons a day, many of whom will have the opportunity to patronize the retail uses on the ground floor of the development.

As part of the motion, the Supervisor also allocated $2 million to support the construction of the publicly accessible transit plaza that will connect the development to the rail stations.“Watt Companies, together with our partner, the West Angeles Community Development Corporation, remains committed to delivering a project that serves everyone in the Crenshaw community,” said Watt Companies CEO Nadine Watt.

Rendering of Crenshaw Crossing. Source: Watt Companies

A “Sneak Peek” at Newly Improved Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station

Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor and Metro Board member Mark Ridley-Thomas joined Mayor and Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti, Metro Board member Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker and Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington on a visit to the Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station along the A Line for a sneak-peek of the new state-of-the-art Rosa Parks Customer Center (RPCC).

Supervisor and Metro Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas speaks in front of the Rosa Parks Customer Center at the Rosa Parks/Willowbrook Station, flanked by (L-R) Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington, Mayor and Metro Chair Eric Garcetti, Metro Board Member Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker. Photo credit: Metro

The Rosa Parks Customer Center and the Transit Court is now open to serve the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Mobility Hub is anticipated to open in mid-November. Once it opens, working hours will be 24/7.

“The Willowbrook community in the heart of South LA has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past decade, thanks to more than $1 billion in investments towards the MLK Medical Campus, affordable apartments, parks and other projects,” LA County Supervisor and Metro Board Director Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “With the newly improved Rosa Parks/Willowbrook Station, we now have the perfect gateway to and from the rest of the region, with a beautiful design, safety features and amenities that both riders and residents will appreciate.”

The station went through a $128-million renovation and modernization project that includes a public plaza area, customer center, transit security center, transit court and mobility hub. Metro is putting the finishing touches on the buildings.

“Public transportation is more than just a way to move around our region — it’s a vehicle for opportunity, equity, and a better quality of life,” said Metro Board Chair and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. “The new Rosa Parks Customer Center will help transform one of the busiest transit hubs in our region into a state-of-the-art station to travel, transfer, and navigate any issues that riders may have with the system.”

Photo credit: Metro

The $10.25 million TIGER funding provided by the Federal Transit Administration made possible the improvements to the Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station as part of the New Blue Improvements Project creating an improved environment for transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists who access the station. The project improvements aim to foster livability and economic vitality through promoting equitable development that retains the area’s unique culture and neighborhood character.

Other improvements to the station include an extended rail platform and new southern entrance to the platform. There is also new artwork, lighting, landscaping, signage, upgraded elevators, escalators, stairs and mezzanine between the A and C Line platforms.

The new facilities at the Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station are part of the New Blue Improvements Project State of Good Repair Program that also included a $350-million overhaul of the entire A Line in 2019 to improve train service.

“Metro is investing in our communities of color and improving their transit experience in concrete and measurable ways,” said Metro Board Member Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker. “This is especially important as Metro focuses on equity to help make our region’s underserved communities better.  Metro has built a new public transit space at Willowbrook/Rosa Parks that clearly enhances the quality of life for transit riders in South Los Angeles.”

Photo credit: Metro

At the new Rosa Parks Customer Center transit riders can buy and load transit passes onto their TAP cards, obtain information about getting around on the Metro system and submit applications for Reduced Fare. This will be Metro’s fifth customer center joining existing ones at Union Station East, Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw, East Los Angeles and Wilshire/Vermont.

“The improvements to Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station and all its amenities are intended to be a welcoming gateway to the Metro system,” said Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington. “This community has supported us with great patronage and ridership for many years — and I’m pleased to see their faith in us rewarded with a vastly-improved station.”

The Mobility Hub will offer light bicycle repairs, maintenance and storage. Other mobility components and amenities will also be program in the near future to enhance commuters’ experience.

The Transit Court operates in a COVID-19 compliant manner with live telephonic service from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, answering questions about customer code of conduct, citations, fine amounts, payment of fines, appeals process, community service and the scheduling of hearings.

Metro will also have a Transit Security office just across from the Customer Center. Security guards will be patrolling the station and also providing security to the Customer Center and Transit Court.

Safety and security at the station have also been enhanced with over 150 new security cameras, an upgraded LED lighting system that provides brighter conditions and better illumination, and a new public address system.

Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

Metro commissioned two artworks for the Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station Improvement Project as part of a range of improvements to the existing station.

Gifts of Freedom and Knowledge, a photo collage mural by artist George Evans in the customer center, greets transit customers with its layered composition celebrating South Los Angeles’ distinct people, neighborhoods and cultural traditions. In keeping with a commitment to cultivate young artists, Evans held arts programs engaging youth from local schools and organizations.

“My role is that of a Shaman who reflects and expresses the life of the village,” said Evans.

Slated for installation in early 2021 is a series of sculptural parasols titled Second Line by artists Jamex and Einar de la Torre. The sculptures will front the Rosa Parks Customer Center and offer shade and enjoyment for the community at future events.

The artists recognized that parasols are featured in processions in the ancient and modern worlds. The artwork pays homage to the significance of Parks’ actions by including her iconic image and several significant symbols from the civil rights movement in the patterning of the parasol canopy. The parasols reflect folk art traditions, referencing the warmth of home and strength of communal gathering in the form of papel picado and doilies.

Rosa Parks/Willowbrook Station. Photo credit: Metro

New Affordable and Supportive Apartments to Open in Willowbrook

Photo provided by LINC Housing

While leading efforts to ramp up the siting and construction of temporary shelters for Los Angeles County’s homeless population, particularly those living under freeways, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has also emphasized the need to continue building affordable apartments with supportive services, one of the most effective ways to end a person’s homelessness long term.

He recently joined Linc Housing’s Rebecca Clark and Suny Lay Chang on a hard hat media tour of Springhaven, a 100-unit affordable apartment community under construction in Willowbrook, conveniently located near Metro’s Rosa Parks Station and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus.

Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

“While the County has moved at an unprecedented rate to bring vulnerable individuals experiencing homelessness indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic, often into interim shelter or motels, we must keep our eyes on the prize – which is always long-term, affordable housing with services available to help residents thrive,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “And there is no better place to have this type of quality housing than in the transit-oriented community created in Willowbrook over the past few years. Located close to medical services, public libraries, public transit, a community garden, and retail, this is a community ready to cater to the needs and desires of all its residents, and I know it will become a vibrant and welcoming neighborhood for the families who will soon call Springhaven home.”

Fifty of Springhaven’s units have been set aside for families and individuals who have experienced homelessness, and they will be getting the keys to their new homes in a few months. These households will receive intensive case management funded by Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, as well as life-enhancing services through Linc’s resident services programs. At nearby Mosaic Gardens at Willowbrook, Linc has seen a 90 percent housing retention rate after one year, which demonstrates the importance of providing wraparound services to ensure housing stability. In addition to the new affordable and supportive housing, Drew Child Development Corporation will provide quality childcare to the community on the ground floor of the development for 88 children.

Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

“Linc is proud of the strong partnership with Los Angeles County and the community,” said Suny Lay Chang, COO, Linc Housing. “As homelessness remains a key concern, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and leaders in this tight-knit community consistently show their commitment to working together with the public and private sectors to make positive changes in the neighborhood. We’re eager to open this beautiful new building, and we’re already hard at work on a third site nearby.”

The 50 homes for people who have experienced homelessness will be filled through referrals from the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. The remaining units will serve families earning up to 60 percent of area median income and one on-site property manager. Linc Housing received more than 4,000 tenant applications for the 49 traditional affordable housing units, reflecting the tremendous need for housing in the region.

In all, Springhaven will have 26 three-bedroom, 24 two-bedroom and 50 one-bedroom apartments. Community areas include multi-purpose spaces to house a variety of resident programs as well as private meeting rooms for service providers and case managers. Additional amenities include an exercise room, garden program, computer lab, community kitchen, activity room for social programs, on-site laundry facilities, and secure long-term bicycle parking.

The property is joining and contributing to a model transit-oriented community that has experienced a dramatic transformation in the past decade. Within a quarter-mile of the property, more than $1 billion has been invested in various community assets, including the complete transformation of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus, a new public library, community garden, and improved public transit and infrastructure improvements, including the completely reconstituted Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Metro Station.

Photo provided by LINC Housing

LA Free the Vote

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, center, with (L-R) Center for Employment Opportunities’ JJ Lamas, Office of Diversion and Reentry’s Peter Espinoza, LAFC’s Larry Freedman, A New Way of Life’s Susan Burton, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan, LA Voice’s Tim Kornegay and a colleague pose with ballot marking devices at the Los Angeles Football Club’s Banc of California stadium, which will be a vote center Oct. 30-Nov. 3, 2020. Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors.

The Supervisor with a ballot marking device at LAFC’s Banc of California stadium. Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

With the election just weeks away, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and other officials gathered at one of Los Angeles County’s newest and most beautiful vote centers — the Los Angeles Football Club’s Banc of California Stadium — to promote LA Free the Vote, an initiative that encourages people impacted by the criminal justice system to exercise their right to vote.

“In an election where the right to vote is being threatened in many parts of the country, LA County is proud to be working to restore voting rights to all eligible individuals,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion that created the initiative. “People who have been involved with jail, prison or probation are disproportionately people of color, and their civic engagement is vital if our society is to reckon with its history of racial discrimination.”

“Our society is at its best when the decisions we make at the ballot box are truly inclusive of all of us,” said Judge (ret.) Peter Espinoza, Director of the County’s Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR), which co-leads the initiative. “The voices of those who have been in the justice system must be heard clearly when justice is on the ballot.”

People with justice system-involvement who can vote in L.A. County include those:

  • on probation, including supervised release and adult felony probation
  • out on bail
  • in jail awaiting trial or sentencing
  • in jail on an AB 109 felony (low-level felonies diverted to local jails under state realignment)
  • in jail for any misdemeanor

The Supervisor with LAFC Co-President Larry Freedman at LAFC’s Banc of California stadium. Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

Those who have not already registered can register in person at any one of nearly 800 vote centers in the county through election day and then immediately cast a ballot. The Registrar/Recorder-County Clerk’s office has implemented extensive safety measures to protect voters from COVID-19: all election workers will wear protective gloves and masks, all surfaces and Ballot Marking Devices will be wiped and sanitized after each voter, social distancing will be maintained, and coverings and gloves will be made available to all voters who have not brought their own.

“We want every voter to know that it is safe and easy to vote, and that there is no better time to vote than right now,” said Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan, the other co-lead of the LA Free the Vote initiative. “We want everyone to vote and to vote as early as possible to ensure the fastest, safest voting experience for all.”

The Los Angeles Football Club’s Banc of California Stadium is one of several sporting venues that will have vote centers during this election, to accommodate social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Voters can cast ballots there from October 30th through election day, November 3rd.

“We take great pride in being a force for good in the Los Angeles community, and we see it as both our honor and our duty to make our stadium available as a voting center for our neighbors and to highlight the important work of LA Free the Vote,” Los Angeles Football Club Co-President Larry Freedman, said. “We hope every eligible Angeleno will likewise show their pride by registering and voting.”

Three people who were previously involved in the justice system, made the most of their second chance, and now are advocates for justice reform and pillars of the community, also spoke at the event. Each offered powerful personal testimony about the importance of the right to vote.

A New Way of Life’s Susan Burton. Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

“People who have lived the criminal justice system have a unique and visceral understanding of what a difference these offices and ballot initiatives could make in people’s lives,” said Susan Burton, founder and president of the nonprofit A New Way of Life. “That’s why our voices as voters are so essential this election, from the presidential election at the top of the ballot all the way down to the local level at the bottom, where you vote on the officials and decisions that will make the greatest impact on your day-to-day life.”

“To me, voting is an expression of rights as a person and of my power as an equal member of society to make change in the world around me,” said Tim Kornegay, Justice Transformation Organizer for the community non-profit LA Voice. “With the LA Free the Vote initiative, the county is saying it recognizes the voice of the historically unheard. The initiative encourages us to be informed and vote in order to shape the programs and policies that impact our community.”

“The more we vote, the more our elected officials will hear and respect the power of our voice and our advocacy,” said JJ Lamas, Supportive Services Specialist at the Center for Employment Opportunities. “So, to my justice-involved siblings, I say: tell your friends, tell your family, tell your community, and be an example yourself. The time to register and vote is now!”

Los Angeles County has been a national leader in civically engaging people impacted by the criminal justice system. Since 2018, members of the LA Free the Vote taskforce have helped register over 7,000 people impacted by the criminal justice system — 5,000 Angelenos in LA County jails through the County Sheriff’s Department and nonprofit partners, and over 2,000 in the reentry community. The initiative has also trained over 800 County staff and partners on voter eligibility and registration.

LA Free the Vote is also a natural extension of the County’s efforts to ensure that voting is easy and safe for all voters, including first-time voters. Vote-by-mail ballots were sent to the home of every voter registered by October 19th, and can be either mailed back (postage paid) or dropped off at any secure voting drop box or voting center (without waiting in line) in the county.

LAFC’s Banc of California Stadium will be a vote center from October 30-November 3. Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors