In Tackling Homelessness, Together We Thrive

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Kaiser Permanente Medical Director Dr. Kirk Tamaddon at this year’s Homeless Count. Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined thousands of volunteers who fanned out across Los Angeles County over three days to count the homeless population, with the goal of finding out where services are needed most, and ultimately deliver them. This year, he walked the streets of Mid-City, accompanied by Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) Interim Executive Director Heidi Marston, Kaiser Permanente Medical Director Dr. Kirk Tamaddon, and others. The Supervisor also visited volunteers at the Community Build deployment site in South LA.

“It is our duty to improve lives beyond our own,” the Supervisor said. “We are in a crisis, but should never accept it as the new normal. By volunteering for the Homeless Count, and taking other steps to help our most vulnerable neighbors, we are recommitting ourselves to the belief that we can change the world around us for the better.”

Kaiser Permanente Medical Director Dr. Kirk Tamaddon, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) Interim Executive Director Heidi Marston at this year’s Homeless Count. Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

Kaiser Permanente’s West Los Angeles Medical Center served as the Mid-City deployment site for 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count. Many of its doctors and other staff were among the volunteers, wearing blue shirts that said “Together We Thrive.”

“For Kaiser Permanente, housing is health,” said Dr. Tamaddon. “Without a safe, stable place to call home, it is nearly impossible to focus on basic health and medical needs. We know that chronic homelessness substantially reduces a person’s life expectancy, increases the risk of disease, and poses public health risks. Safe and stable housing is key to a person’s physical, mental and social health.  As one of the nation’s largest nonprofit integrated health care systems, Kaiser Permanente has a responsibility to support health at every opportunity, including efforts to increase the supply of affordable housing and reduce homelessness and housing instability.”

Kaiser Permanente was also the first private sector contributor to California Governor Gavin Newsom’s newly announced fund to combat homelessness in the state. When the Governor created the $750 million California Access to Housing and Services Fund, he called on corporate and philanthropic organizations to invest in it as well. Kaiser Permanente immediately responded, pledging $25 million. This commitment builds  on the $200 million in impact investments that Kaiser Permanente has announced in recent years in support of community health, mainly focusing on affordable housing. It also complements ongoing sustainable rapid-housing programs and efforts to strengthen systems that can end chronic homelessness.

“Chronic homelessness has been shown to cut 27 years from the average life span and is associated with communicable diseases such as hepatitis and typhus, increased hospitalizations, and frequent readmissions,” Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO Greg Adams said. “Safe and stable housing is key to a person’s physical, mental and social health, so we applaud the governor’s plan to address homelessness. Our investment in the fund aligns with Kaiser Permanente’s overall strategy to preserve affordable housing and prevent displacement of existing residents, while addressing the root causes of homelessness in our communities.”

Volunteers at the Community Build deployment site in South LA. Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

The 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count began in the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys, then moved on to East and West Los Angeles, before wrapping up at the Antelope Valley and Metro and South Los Angeles.

Last year’s count indicated that the number of people experiencing homelessness across the county at the time rose to 59,000, 27,000 of them unsheltered. Despite the increase, the homeless services system helped more people than ever before. Residents exited homelessness over 21,000 times and more than 75,000 people received services, including prevention, outreach, shelters, and permanent supportive housing. More than 31,000 completed all the steps to access housing—but could not find a space to move into.

2020 Homeless Count volunteers at Kaiser Permanente’s West Los Angeles Medical Center, which served as LAHSA’s Mid-City deployment site. . Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

“Homelessness is dynamic. It changes day over day, year over year and everyone’s path is different. Conducting this count helps us better understand the needs of our neighbors experiencing homelessness so that we can align our resources to best address those needs,” said Heidi Marston, Interim Executive Director of LAHSA. “Given the current crisis on our streets, the data collected during the count is more important than ever.”