Leading the Way on a Homelessness Crisis Response

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas reads in motion on January 14, 2020. (BOS Photographer/Dave Franco)

A day after the Governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors issued a Comprehensive Crisis Response Strategy, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas filed a motion urging the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to develop a framework for implementing priority elements of the 40-point strategy across Los Angeles County in the short term.

Co-authored by Supervisor Janice Hahn, the motion also called for developing a plan that would create greater capacity and accountability in Los Angeles County to ensure housing or shelter for people ready and willing to move indoors.

The motion complements Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order to make more State land and facilities available to build shelter and housing, and a proposal to invest $1.4 billion next year to address homelessness. Elements of the Governor’s spending plan had been inspired by programs in Los Angeles County.

“Implicit in Governor Newsom’s proposal and the Council’s recommendations is a call for State, county and city governments to respond to this crisis with new urgency, boldness and ingenuity,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who co-chairs the Council with Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. “The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority estimates approximately 30,000 unsheltered individuals have been assessed and are willing to accept housing services now, if those were available. We need a paradigm shift if we want to grow the capacity to serve all those ready to come indoors.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas noted more than 1,000 homeless people died on Los Angeles County streets last year, and this trend is not expected to abate unless solutions for more immediate shelter and housing can be found.

“Given that the County is the epicenter of the State’s homeless crisis, the Board of Supervisors must continue to lead by example and embrace the immediate implementation of strategies to categorically change the course of this crisis,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “We should pilot an accountability framework for ensuring all those who are ready and willing to come indoors have the ability to do so.”

Construction is poised to start on Safe Landing, a project championed by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas that made County land in West Athens available to build clinically-enhanced interim housing for 180 individuals. Using prefab construction materials, it will be built in less than a year on a site where, according to the most recent Homeless Count, more than 700 unsheltered individuals live within a two-mile radius.

Safe Landing will be open 24 hours, 7 days a week, welcoming individuals whenever they are ready to receive services. It will have a fully-staffed medical and behavioral health clinic on-site, ample storage for the residents, areas for pets, and quarters that allow couples to stay together. Luana Murphy is President and Chief Executive Officer of Exodus Recovery, Inc., which will operate the site, and provide integrated clinical services to all comers.

“As a provider that serves clients who are frequently medically-fragile and long-term homeless, I am pleased to see the Comprehensive Crisis Response Strategy issued by the Governor’s Council yesterday, and I am thankful that the Board of Supervisors is showing their leadership by taking steps to implement the recommendations,” she said.  “We are already implementing some of the models being scaled up by the Governor through his budget actions last week and I look forward to working closely with the County and other stakeholders to do even more to help our vulnerable neighbors.”

Va Lecia Adams Kellum, Ph.D., is president and CEO of St. Joseph Center, which in partnership with Los Angeles County, provides street outreach to the homeless, and tenancy support services to people who have been housed.

“Thanks to the Governor’s Council for all their hard work,” she said. “We appreciate the recommendations that address the very heart of the homeless crisis. As one of the lead agencies working to address this problem, St. Joseph Center looks forward to working with County of Los Angeles to implement the recommendations and ensure that everyone has a safe and permanent place to live. “

In their recommendations, the 13-member Governor’s Council emphasized that “urgency should drive our response” and that homelessness must be viewed as “a humanitarian crisis tantamount to any sustained natural disaster.” 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.