A Long Awaited Missing Piece

I applaud, and we at Union Rescue Mission applaud the bold step by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Los Angeles in announcing a push to end chronic homelessness in Los Angeles through the building of permanent supportive housing both inside and outside of Skid Row.  This important move incorporates several of the steps outlined in http://YouAreTheMission.org the 10 Step Initiative to End Homelessness developed by Union Rescue Mission which we and announced on October 28th, 2009 including:

Step 8:

Provide Permanent Supportive Housing to People Who Need it Most

The best solution for many who have been devastated by long-term homelessness is permanent supportive housing.
SRO (Single Room Occupancy) Housing is already providing permanent supportive housing, strong management, and crucial services that address underlying issues faced by those who are devastated by the long term effects of homelessness. There are organizations that have provided permanent supportive housing, including comprehensive services, for the most chronic, most devastated men and women. But we need more to focus on this initiative.

Action Steps:

  • Encourage County Supervisors and City Council members to provide more permanent supportive housing, along with supportive services.
  • Join Union Rescue Mission or your local agency serving people experiencing homelessness reach out to men and women on the streets and help connect them to services and housing.
  • Mobilize your business, civic group, or faith community to engage and offer acts of kindness to men and women struggling with chronic homelessness.

Our crucial Step 4:

Localize the Solution To Homelessness

We must end the policy of dumping, corralling, and containing people who are struggling and experiencing homelessness.

Each city area should provide local services to their own neighbors who find themselves without a home. When invited, Union Rescue Mission and partnering agencies will consult, collaborate, and help develop regional satellites to local communities committed to seeking solutions to homelessness.

Action Steps:

  • Begin a movement to meet the need. Encourage your neighborhood or city council to address the need in your own community. This is everyone’s challenge and opportunity.
  • Encourage your community to open a winter or year-round shelter.
  • Encourage your city or faith community to provide assistance and affordable housing for low-income families and individuals.

And the key to moving this bold step by the Chamber and United Way in LA to fruition is:

Step 1:

Change The Way We Think & Speak about People Experiencing Homelessness

Too often we describe or label people as the homeless or addicts or 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. When we label people, we don’t see their potential and the possibilities within them. When we look the other way and ignore people, we de-humanize them and diminish their value. We need to look into our own hearts, change our thinking, and learn to say, “But by God’s grace, there go I,” then ask, “What can I do?” Only then can we make a difference.

Action Steps:

  • Take time to get to know men, women, and children who are 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.
  • Read books like Same Kind of Different as Me, A Heart For The City, When Helping Hurts, and other great books that help to open your eyes and heart to the needs of people experiencing homelessness.

One of my dear friends has been critical of United Way and the Chamber of Commerce jumping on board, asking, “Why is everyone so excited that two agencies long absent from serving people experiencing homelessness are now jumping on board?”  I, for one, would say that it is because the business community has long been the missing piece of the puzzle in ending this crisis.

Five years ago we were at a business event with many of the great business leaders of our city.  Steve Lopez, the brilliant writer for the LA Times and an amazing advocate for people experiencing homelessness, was being honored and there was a push made to help URM open up Hope Gardens Family Center, but only one downtown business stepped up that day to help us with a financial gift to make it happen. 

Los Angeles has been the reigning capital of homelessness for far too long, and we have needed and we need everyone on board to end the reign and make sure that there is not one precious person living on the streets of our great city.  Only then can we live up to our name, the City of Angels.

I am curious as to how the number $875 Million now spent on people experiencing chronic homelessness was arrived at?  I have asked for the printout, but have not received.  I am almost certain SSI and Social Security payments were not included, and they should not be, because those payments will not go away, but will hopefully be directed towards paying rent at the proposed permanent supportive housing.  We have introduced the Chamber to a tool that could help better direct the payments to this cause.  If by chance the number was derived by adding the total budgets of institutions and agencies like Union Rescue Mission that would be a mistake, because only part of our overall budget is directed towards the minority, the folks devastated by long term chronic homelessness, which is only 10% to 20% of the total population of precious people experiencing homelessness.  More than ½ of URM’s budget is directed towards the other 80% to 90%, the folks experiencing episodic or those experiencing homelessness for the 1st time — folks who are efficiently and effectively served by emergency services, life transformation programs, transitional housing, and rapid re-housing. 

One size does not fit all in this situation. It would be too costly to provide the capital for permanent supportive housing to 80% to 90% of the population of people in need.  And it would do a disservice to folks who with a little help are ready willing and able to get back on their feet and into the mainstream work force.  Inclusion of the costs of these programs into the $875 Million total would be a wrong attribution of cost in serving people experiencing chronic homelessness.  If the services to the 80% to 90% would go away, and move only to serve people who are suffering from chronic homelessness, leaving them on the streets, some of those 80% to 90% could drop into the category of chronic homelessness.

If part of the cost included in the $875 Million is fire, police, paramedic, ER visits, hospital visits and medical costs, those may possibly decrease if the permanent supportive housing is bolstered by sufficient supportive services, adequate security and solid management, but those costs will not go away completely.  All need to understand that these precious folks are often mentally and physically very ill.  And most are battling addictions. The years on the streets have not been kind to their minds, bodies or souls. It would be naïve to think that emergency calls and medical care would decrease sharply. We have had numerous emergency calls and 3 deaths, including at least 1 murder, in our immediate area in permanent housing just this week alone.  In fact, if the permanent supportive housing is not bolstered by costly sufficient support services, adequate honest security, and solid management, the emergency costs, death rate, and precious human cost could go up.  In the midst of our enthusiasm to provide this missing piece of the puzzle in serving the most devastated by long term homelessness with the best option, solid costly permanent supportive housing, we need to be accurate and not compare apples and oranges. 

I also take exception to the statement in the press release regarding the Chamber’s and United Way’s initiative, and that is to model after what Santa Monica is doing in regards to homelessness.  Certainly, we should follow in their footsteps in providing more permanent supportive housing, but not follow in their overall response to homelessness. 

From what I and others serving people experiencing homelessness have observed, Santa Monica has followed in the footsteps of Pasadena and others who have adopted the theology of The Field Of Dreams, “If you build it they will come”, in their approach to providing overall services to people experiencing homelessness acting as if by not providing services you can stop the production of people experiencing homelessness.  Choosing to require I.D.’s to prove your residency in a specific city before receiving services and believing that merely setting up a continuum of care that works efficiently for the city government is the key while leaving many who struggle with homelessness on the streets.  Now the City of Glendale, believing that the provision of a Winter Shelter last year caused the increase of people experiencing homelessness, plans to follow in the footsteps of Santa Monica after this coming Winter Season, and require proof of residency in Glendale before being served, shrink the numbers served at their Winter Shelter from 150 to 50, and turn to the architect of Pasadena’s continuum of care to operate their shelter.  If anything, we need to expand the Winter Shelters and make them year round as stated in http://youarethemission.org  Step 7!

We know that emergency services, “3 hots and a cot”, limited case management and some support services are not the ultimate answer for precious people devastated by long-term homelessness, and strongly agree that solid permanent supportive housing is the best answer for chronic homelessness.  But until enough housing with support can be accomplished, we need to continue doing all that we can to keep people off of the streets. We need a both/and approach until sufficient supportive units are complete. 

We give a solid thumbs up to the Chamber and United Way in making a bold effort to end chronic homelessness in Los Angeles!  We will be there to sign on Dec. 1st, and we firmly believe that this is 1 of 10 crucial steps to ending homelessness in our great city. 


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