Homeless Task Force informed on shelter programs from city officials

Homeless Initiative and Chief Executive Officer at Los Angeles County Ashlee Oh gave a presentation on the County Homeless Initiative, strategies, funding, social enterprise, and their new efforts during the Homeless Task Force meeting on Feb. 15. 

The Homeless Initiative prioritizes strengthening collaboration between the County and diverse stakeholders. According to Oh, regional coordination and innovation funding for 2022-2023 is $10 million, which is allocated to 88 cities throughout the region. This funds housing feasibility studies, job training, and placement, outreach and navigation, grocery programs, permanent housing, shared housing, and more.

Interim housing plays a critical role to engage and transition homeless individuals and families to more stable housing. Oh, said this development is relevant for the Alternative Sleeping Location (ASL) the homeless task force is considering. 

“Interim housing plays a critical role to engage and transition our homeless individuals and families to more stable housing,” Oh explained. “Crisis housing bridge housing is a 24/7 crisis shelter situation where they get meals, housing navigation, and supportive services so they can transition to more permanent housing.”

From July 2017 to September 2021, the LA County Homeless Initiative was able to place 74,862 people in permanent housing placement, 99,350 people in interim housing placement, increased income from employment and benefits for 32,902 people, and helped prevent 19,528 people from becoming homeless.

Despite the increasing housing placements, the homeless census continues to increase in LA County. As of 2020, there are 66,433 people that are experiencing homelessness.

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“It means that even though we are helping 100 sum people to exit homeless every single day, on that same day, the number of people who become homeless far exceeds that number, so it’s very difficult to reduce the homeless count,” Oh said. “That is something that is being worked on.”

Those who continue to experience homelessness remain persistently underserved and need intensive intervention. Oh, said due to lack of system flow, many are stuck in interim housing or on the streets for an extended period. 

For the 4th annual homeless initiative evaluation, the number of persistently underserved homeless people more than doubled between 2017 and 2019, going from 16,000 to 35,500.

The homeless initiative framework’s new approach includes six strategies to coordinate, prevent, connect, house, and stabilize prevention and is linked to formerly homeless residents. 

LAHSA Interim Housing Associate Director Jaclyn Grant provided a presentation of the different interim housing programs beds in LA County and how they operate.

“As part of LA County, the programs that operate through LAHSA all operate with shared philosophies and shared approaches that include that programs operate with low barriers meaning that there are as few restrictions to entry into shelter as possible,” Grant said. “We recognize the best pathway into shelter services is to reduce any barriers that might get in the way of someone being able to access interim housing.” 

Grant said their programs utilize a trauma-informed approach and operate with a harm reduction standpoint.

Grant provided more information on the types of housing they provide those who experience homelessness, such as youth individuals, individuals who suffer domestic violence, and FEMA’s response to COVID-19 with Project Roomkey. 

Taskforce member Scott Dittrich asked if they are able to access winter shelters during red flag days, October through February so that people living in tents in Malibu can access them.

“Right now, the winter shelter programs operate between November to Mar. 31; however, the winter shelter program does not factor in the dry season but the county which Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s office does support this motion, and there is a critical need to address encampments in those areas, high fire severity zones, especially those difficult to access by foot,” Oh said.  

Taskforce member Kelly Pessis asked if there would be funding available for projects such as the ASL project they are considering. 

“Although we cannot support only serving the specific constituents, we support the city prioritizing it,” Oh said. “Prior to the shelter opening, we’re asking the city to work with their providers in that area to really engage all homeless clients in your city to create a by names list and to get their buy-in so that the clients are ready to move in as soon those doors open, and they’re going to get first-dibs.”

In 2021, an informal count performed by the Malibu Homelessness Working Group showed 157 unhoused individuals in Malibu. Oh referred to that number and anticipates there would be a waitlist of Malibu constituents in need of a bed and not share with other cities such as Santa Monica. 

“We feel pretty confident that you are going to be able to fill those primarily with Malibu homeless people,” Oh said. 

Pessis asked who they could reach out to help them navigate with the ASL project start-up.

Taskforce member Terry Davis raised a question and concern about the 11,000 beds available compared to those thousands who are experiencing homelessness. 

“The difficulty with setting up shelter giving NIMBYs and permanent housing not being available, it just seems as though there’s not a problem with money, the money is there and available and accessible, it’s the number of beds, we need more in order to address this,” Davis said. “It sounds wonderful when you talk about all these programs, but the facility, the ability to use the programs, get into them, access the funds, and all of that, the hurdles seem endless.”

Oh, and Grant were unable to address the question due to the timing of the meeting.

The People Concern Program Manager, Jason Flores, provided a perspective on what an outreach team member does when approaching those who are experiencing homelessness but also how to engage with those who are experiencing mental illness and substance abuse.

Flores said their clients have experienced barriers such as identification, source of income, and social security. 

“It’s frustrating for our clients; it’s difficult for us to try and maintain that level of trust that took so long to get to, and now it’s like we’re back to square one again,” Flores said. “It’s frustrating.”

Dittrich asked Oh and Grant where they would be able to implement their shelter, having no industrial residential or commercial areas in Malibu. 

“Malibu is not the first one to ask, ‘pick a place outside of our city,’ but I do agree that Malibu is a small area, and the composition of your residential and retail building mix is very different from other areas,” Oh said. “Especially where they’re more commercially developed.”

Oh recommends increasing the 25 units Malibu is considering to increase to 40 units on-site to achieve the economies of scale. 

“It’s not just the number of units, but it’s how quickly we’re able to effectively transition people from interim housing to permanent housing,” Oh said. “We understand it’s difficult and costly to build these new sites, so we’re also trying to look at how we could increase the throughput to help transition people faster, which will open up capacity.”

Samantha Bravo
Samantha Bravo
Samantha Bravo is an inspiring photojournalist based in Los Angeles California. She began her journalism career at Pierce College Media Arts Department. Twitter @samanthavbravo

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