New hope for our tiniest homeless
August 30, 2012
There are an estimated 3,000 children—5 years old and younger—who endure lives of homelessness every day in Los Angeles County. By all measures, they face a bleak future. According to studies, homeless youngsters are 12 times more likely to end up in foster care, and they’re twice as likely to suffer learning disabilities. By the age of 12, large numbers of them will have witnessed a violent event.
This week, the First 5 LA commission began developing the framework for an unprecedented “fast-track” effort to end this tragic cycle by committing $25 million to place families of these vulnerable youngsters in permanent supportive housing.
“There is a tremendous social cost for nearly 3,000 of our youngest children to be left without a safe, stable home every night,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who earlier this year became First 5 LA’s chairman. “With this program, we are focusing for the first time on helping families with children prenatal to age 5 who are struggling with homelessness daily and nightly in Los Angeles County.”
The multimillion dollar effort was initiated in July through a Yaroslavsky motion after First 5 LA released a study of the problem. It’s modeled after programs that have proven highly effective in restoring the lives of chronically homeless adults in Los Angeles and across the nation. The idea is to give a person a permanent home while surrounding him or her with a variety of services, including mental health and medical services.
A Los Angeles County analysis of the pioneering Project 50 on Skid Row showed that not only were participants benefiting, but the public was saving money on emergency rooms, jails and other costs associated with long-term homelessness. The Project 50 model, also championed by Yaroslavsky, is now being replicated throughout the region and by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The $25 million committed by First 5 LA to house homeless children is part of a broader initiative to accelerate the expenditure of $400 million for various services aimed at the county’s babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Last year, a toughly-worded audit found, among other things, that the agency had been sitting on a surplus of nearly $800 million, prompting a change of leadership. First 5 LA and similar agencies throughout California are funded by a voter-approved 50-cent tax on tobacco products sold in the state.
At its meeting this week, the commission said it would begin soliciting applications for the funds in mid-September and start awarding the money in December.