Homeless team gets to work
March 28, 2012
The occasion was the inaugural meeting of the Interdepartmental Council on Homelessness, a body created through a Board of Supervisors motion authored by Mark Ridley-Thomas and myself. And make no mistake, despite the bureaucratic-sounding name, the council will make a measurable impact on homelessness because, for the first time, we’re pursuing a clearly defined county strategy: to provide permanent supportive housing with vital services to those most likely to perish on our streets.
In other words, if you want to end homelessness, then you must provide a home.
We know from our own experience that this “housing first” approach works. Back in 2007, in that same Hall of Administration conference room, we launched a pilot program called Project 50, championed by my office to house and provide supportive services to Skid Row’s 50 most chronically homeless people. Unlike earlier, narrower efforts, this one required coordination among multiple county agencies with varying responsibilities for this extraordinarily difficult population.
The goal was not only to save lives, but to save money, too, by reducing the high public cost of emergency room care and incarceration historically associated with chronically homeless individuals.
Since the successful launch of Project 50, the concept has been replicated throughout my 3rd District—in Santa Monica, Venice, Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley. The United Way has adopted the approach for its ambitious “Home for Good” campaign, as has the Department of Veterans Affairs with its own Project 60 in collaboration with my office. In all, more than 500 people have been placed in permanent supportive housing since the initiation of Project 50.
Now, with the establishment of the interdepartmental council, Los Angeles County is finally aligning its will and existing resources behind the housing-first model, offering real hope to the most vulnerable among the 51,000 souls in our county without homes. Around the table on Wednesday were top officials from such crucial departments in the fight against homelessness as mental health, children and family services, probation, health services, public health, social services, community development, the superior court and sheriff’s department.
To be sure, we face a huge challenge here, in the nation’s epicenter of homelessness. And our vast county bureaucracy is not naturally inclined toward this kind of multi-agency plan of attack, one that eliminates barriers and accelerates the time between an idea and its implementation.
Still, as the council’s first chairman, I’m convinced that in the months and years ahead we can house not just hundreds, but thousands of people who, like any other resident of our county, deserve more than another well-intentioned plan that ends up on a shelf gathering dust.