Union Rescue Mission’s initiative to end homelessness in Los Angeles.
We cannot live up to our name, the City of Angels, while leading the Nation with the highest population of homeless individuals and families living on the streets of our Community. Los Angeles County has 3% of the nation’s total population, but 10% of its homeless population. It’s time for the people of Los Angeles to rise up and take positive action to bring an end to the epidemic of homelessness in our community. It is time to replace homelessness with hopefulness. Hope for a better life off the streets and help from those individuals and organizations who can pull together to make this a reality.
We need a coordinated set of strategies to address this problem. One size does not fit all – no single strategy will work for everyone who is experiencing homelessness. Homelessness is a complex issue with a variety of underlying causes that require different solutions. When you get to know the people who are living on the streets you’ll find that they are usually struggling with some deep, emotional pain: the result of abuse, neglect, or trauma of some kind. This unresolved pain leads to a withdrawal from community and healthy relationships, if in fact, they ever existed. The pain often leads to addiction as a coping mechanism which causes the individual to spiral downward. The earlier the pattern starts, the more likely that there will also be a lack of life, educational, or vocational skills. Finally, serious mental or physical health issues can compound the problem, making recovery very difficult. Most of the men and women who are struggling with homelessness experience some combination of these elements.
The longer one remains in a state of homelessness, the more damage is done and the higher the barriers or obstacles to overcome. Finding solutions then comes down to a question on an individual level of the severity of the barriers or obstacles to overcome, the resources that can be brought to bear to address the challenges, the motivation level of the individual to accept help and work through his/her issues, and the level of support given by the community.
With your help, we are launching an initiative to reduce the population of people on the streets of Skid Row by 90% in 3 years, cut the number of people who are homeless in LA County by 50% in 7 years, and in 10 years end Los Angeles’ reign as the Homeless Capitol of the United States. We are calling this “You Are the Mission” because it’s a challenge for all of us. You are the Mission to end homelessness in Los Angeles!
The following is not a comprehensive solution, but outlines a 10-step framework to help us reach these goals.
1. Heart Change. We need to change the way we talk and think about people who are homeless. We need to stop saying the homeless, addicts, transients. These are precious people, made in the image of God, who are currently experiencing homelessness. People should never be defined or labeled exclusively by their current condition. They are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters. We don’t see the potential and possibilities within people when we label them. When we look the other way and choose to ignore them, we de-humanize them and diminish their value. We need to look into our own hearts, change our thinking, learn to say “but by God’s grace, there go I” and ask “What can I do?” to make a difference.
Take time to get to know individuals experiencing homelessness. Hear their stories, understand their struggles, and put a human face on this issue.
Train yourself to think and speak differently about people who are homeless.
Engage others in this discussion. Language shapes our thinking and when we change our language, we begin to see things from a different perspective.
2. We need to not make excuses for inaction based on myths. Some in the faith community respond to poverty and homelessness by quoting Jesus, “The poor you will always have with you”. They use this to justify inaction, and develop an attitude of complacency. This ignores the rest of His words and the context. “The poor you will always have with you so be kind to them.” He is quoting Deuteronomy 15 – “There should be no poor in the land if you are obedient. However, since there is disobedience, both personally and corporately, there will always be poor in the land, so have an open hand to your brother and sister. Lift your brother and sister out of poverty.” Jesus’ words are not an excuse for inaction, but a Call to Action!
- Have a holy discontent in regards to precious human beings living on our streets and take action!
- Volunteer, learn how to address this human tragedy with wisdom and compassion, take to the streets with acts of kindness, give to agencies making a difference and providing effective solutions to homelessness, speak up and advocate for those who have no voice or power!
3. No one should be evicted to the streets. Families with significant barriers and challenges should be referred to a structured, transitional housing program like URM’s Hope Gardens Family Center in order to gain the skills they need to maintain housing. Families falling on hard times with low barriers should be connected immediately to Rapid Rehousing programs like those currently being offered by LA Family Housing, PATH, URM’s Project Restart, and others. We are encouraged that the federal government is makings timulus funds available to provide case management and temporary financial assistance to rapidly re-house families that have fallen into homelessness in this difficult eceonomy. Every effort should be made to keep families from experiencing the devastation of homelessness. Individuals should be referred to other agencies even when there are difficult circumstances – never put out on the streets with no other options. URM has made it a practice to provide a van ride when referring even a difficult client to another agency. We do not accept the premise held by some that homelessness is a legitimate lifestyle choice that should be accepted and protected. Homelessness is bad for individuals, families, and communities. The longer one remains homeless, the more damage one suffers and chronic homelessness becomes an early death sentence.
- Advocate for more structured, transitional housing programs.
- Encourage faith communities to connect people experiencing homelessness with available resources and consider establishing a structured transitional housing program.
- No one solution is best for all. Become educated about the causes and appropriate solutions for various groups of people experiencing homelessness.
4. Solutions to homelessness should be regionalized. Each city, suburb, and region of southern California should provide services to serve their own neighbors who are experiencing homelessness. We must end the policies of corralling, containment, and dumping of people who are struggling and experiencing homelessness on Skid Row in Los Angeles. Union Rescue Mission and the partners who stand with us are willing to consult, collaborate, and if needed, develop regional satellites to provide regional solutions to homelessness.
- Begin a movement to meet the need. Envourage your neighborhood or city council to address the need in your own community. This is everyone’s challenge and opportunity – not just a downtown problem.
- Encourage your community to open a winter or year round shelter.
- Encourage your city or faith community to provide affordable housing for low-income families and individuals.
5. Connect families with a mentoring team. Union Rescue Mission is partnering with Imagine LA, working with churches, faith communities, and other agencies on a plan to connect families experiencing homelessness with a mentoring team who will walk with the family as they transition out of homelessness. We will also ask faith communities to reach out to a family in their own vicinity who is on the edge of homelessness, and work together to prevent this family from ever experiencing the devastation of homelessness. There are 8,000 homeless families in LA County, and 8,000 faith communities in LA County.
- Connect with your faith community and encourage them to embrace this idea.
- Arrange a meeting for your faith community with Union Rescue Mission and Imagine LA.
- Raise your awareness level of neighbors/families in need and help connect them with your faith community.
- Faith communities need to reach out with marriage counseling, financial counseling, parenting classes, and fatherhood initiatives to strengthen families, prevent family disintegration, and address the root causes of homelessness.
6. Adopt best practices in community policing. Communities throughout greater Los Angeles need to adopt best practices in community policing in response to their homeless populations. There are homeless individuals and families in every community, and each municipality should take responsibility to address the issue intelligently, effectively, and compassionately. Helping individuals access services, advocating for more local services when they are lacking, maintaining reasonable community standards, dealing effectively with the drugs and crime that often accompany homelessness, and investing in the training of police officers and other community officials are all important components of a comprehensive approach to reducing homelessness. We salute the efforts of the Los Angeles Police Department and its Safer Cities Initiative. The LAPD – Central Division has been instrumental in helping to reduce the number of people living on the streets of Skid Row, connecting individuals with vital services and bringing about a 39% reduction in violent crime, a 43% reduction in property crime, and a 71% reduction in street deaths over the last 4 years. In addition, Los Angeles is one of the few major cities where violent crimes against the homeless are in decline. We applaud the efforts of Captain Blake Chow, Sgt. Deon Joseph, and the LAPD- Central Division.
- Volunteer to walk along or ride with LAPD as they do community policing.
- Join URM in outreach on the street before LAPD carries out a maximum enforcement.
- Mentor an individual participating in our Just In Reach program who is returning to their community from incarceration.
7. Advocate for year-round shelters. As a safety net, we applaud Los Angeles Housing Services Authority (LAHSA) for its thoughtful Winter Shelter Program. We ask that the City and County fund it sufficiently and that it can be expanded to a year round opportunity so that anyone who becomes homeless can have a roof over their head and a place to sleep in safety.
- Speak to the Governor and ask for National Guard Armories to be opened year round.
- Speak to City and County officials to more substantially fund LAHSA so that the shelters can not only be open year round, but also have sufficient case management and support services to assist people experiencing homelessness into more permanent solutions.
8. Support services for chronically homeless individuals. We applaud LA County’s Project 500, which focused on providing permanent, supportive housing with comprehensive services for the most chronic, high-barrier, homeless individuals on Skid Row. We also appreciate and support the continued county-wide efforts to identify individuals throughout the region who would benefit from an expansion of this project. Both of these initiatives are necessary. However, we also ask that an additional investment is made to fund a Project 500 focused on Skid Row, which contains the greatest concentration of chronically homeless and devastated individuals in the United States. Permanent, supportive housing is the best solution for many people who have been devastated by long-term homelessness. We applaud partners like Beth Sandor from Common Ground for focusing on this initiative and we are proud to support their efforts. We especially applaud the great service provided by SRO Housing in providing permanent, supportive housing along with strong management and services to address underlying issues.
- Speak to County Supervisors and City Council members to encourage more permanent supportive housing both in and outside of Skid Row along with supportive services.
- Join us as we take to the streets with outreach and connect people to services and housing.
- Mobilize your business, community, or faith community to take to the streets with acts of kindness and engagement.
9. Understand significant barriers that must be overcome. Many who become trapped in homelessness have significant barriers to overcome before they can return to a productive life on their own. The longer one remains homeless, the greater these barriers become. Devastating emotional impacts, addiction issues, criminal pasts, and insufficient job or life skills are all conditions that hold people back and keep them trapped in homelessness and poverty. These barriers are not insurmountable or permanent, but usually require a structured, long-term recovery process that is available at agencies like Union Rescue Mission, the Los Angeles Mission, Midnight Mission, Salvation Army, the Weingart Center and others. These agencies have helped thousands of individuals and families address and overcome their obstacles and return to the community as productive citizens. The positive impact of these long-term programs should not be overlooked with the current focus on Permanent Supportive Housing or Rapid Re-Housing as solutions for homelessness. These Housing 1st initiatives are the best solution for certain segments for the homeless population, but will not address the needs of the entire population.
Support effective life transformation programs: they offer a great return on investment, altering the future for individuals, families, and generations to come.
Attend graduation events: see for yourself how lives can be transformed and encourage these folks who have had the courage to give life another try.
Come alongside and mentor one of these graduates. The greatest contributor to ongoing success is the relationship established between a mentor and an individual as he transitions from program to community.
10. Help with employment-related opportunities. One of the most important follow-up opportunities to a life transformation program is a Job Opportunity. We plan to invest more in employment training, job skill development, and connection to career opportunities. Our partner Chrysalis, who has done this most effectively, serves as a model to others and deserves recognition and support.
Share your skills to teach employment readiness and job skill classes.
Encourage employers to hire people who have successfully graduated from these programs.
Support Chrysalis and others who are doing this vital work.
Please join with us in this important cause! Our website http://urm.org will continue to be updated with information and resources to help you make a difference.
Get involved personally. Invite your family, friends, faith community and workplace to join you in this cause and let’s work towards the day when there are no more homeless people on the streets of LA.