Published in Valley News Group Papers June 6, 2019
Anyone who drives Ventura Boulevard, rides the LA River Bike Path, or walks their neighborhood knows that the West Valley is in the midst of a homelessness emergency. Even though the area has fewer homeless people than any other part of the city, it is still a human tragedy for those experiencing homelessness, a quality of life issue for the entire community, and a moral issue that tears at our collective soul.
The 2019 LAHSA Homeless Count results released this week are both awful and frustrating, but they reflect some progress that we must continue to build on. Homelessness increased 12% in the County to 59,000 people, and 16% in the City to 36,000. Ventura, Orange and Kern Counties saw double, triple and quadruple the increases we saw in LA County. Throughout the City there was an 8% increase in homeless families and youth homelessness rose 24%. More seniors became homelessness with a 7% increase and folks 55-61 went up almost 20%. Also, the number of homeless women increased 14%. Since 2018, a whopping 63% of homeless people are homeless for the first time and 29% have a serious mental illness or substance abuse disorder. In my district there was a substantial increase from 607 to 885 people on our streets. One of the most shocking facts is that homeless people who have experienced domestic violence (DV) spiked 42%, with well over 12,000 DV victims on our streets.
At the same time, more than 20,000 formerly homeless people now have homes, and 90% of folks who enter Rapid Re-Housing are staying housed. LAHSA has expanded their legal services, helping avoid evictions and mediating with landlords to prevent tenants from becoming homeless. With Prop HHH funds, 10,000 units are in the pipeline and 1,400 supportive units will open this year. But, right now more people are falling into homelessness for the first-time and we must continue to push for more innovative policies that will both help lift people out of homelessness and help prevent people from losing their homes in the first place.
I regularly go out with LA Family Housing and LAHSA to meet local homeless people and help connect them to services. I’ve heard many of their heartbreaking stories of drug addiction and struggles with mental health. But, more often their stories could happen to anyone. Someone lost a job and didn’t have sufficient savings, rent skyrocketed and they couldn’t find an available apartment quick enough, and I’ve met many victims of domestic violence still fleeing their abuser. There is no one way to homelessness, just as there is no one way to end homelessness.
Over the past few years, I’ve helped create some important programs that will benefit people for years to come, and we are just starting to see results. We established an innovative program with Tarzana Treatment Center and Providence Tarzana Hospital that puts emergency drug or mental health patient navigators in the emergency room specifically to help homeless people, because when they hit rock bottom in the ER even the most service-resistant person may finally accept help. The navigators coordinate post-ER treatment at their centers and in special group homes.
Together with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, we will soon open the City’s first permanent Bridge Housing facility to get people off the street and into the help they need. It will be in Canoga Park on Saticoy and Canoga Ave. We are investing in Safe Parking LA offering folks living in cars, who are one step away from pitching a tent, a safe place to sleep and receive services.
The most effective, efficient and affordable way to combat homelessness is preventing new people from becoming homeless. Though I have been fighting to mandate affordable housing units be included in Warner Center, and incentivize supportive housing in the West Valley, there’s much more to do. Formerly homeless people who had suffered with drugs and mental health problems have said the way they finally got clean was in supportive housing with wraparound services.
More housing is imperative, priced within reach of everyday people working 40 hours a week who currently spend more than half their income on an apartment. According to Zillow, between 2010 and 2018, the average one bedroom apartment in Los Angeles rent rose 84%, from $1,275 to $2,350. According to Census.gov, simultaneously the average median income only increased 11%, from $49,138 to $54,501. Regardless of other variables such as addiction and mental health, this discrepancy is glaring and unsustainable. The outcome of this lopsided equation is painfully playing out in our communities.
The City is not a developer so we must incentivize builders to create smaller, non-luxury units where rent can be capped. We can facilitate this by offering them free City-owned land that is big enough or by expediting permitting so certain projects can be done faster.
Some constituents fear affordable housing or permanent supportive housing in their community because they think it is a tent structure or an eyesore. It doesn’t need to be and can be good for the overall community and property values. PATH’s Winnetka Village on Sherman Way is a great example. The building itself looks the nicest on the block, with 91 units of permanent supportive housing, and no complaints from neighbors.
I will continue to work with anyone who wants to be a part of the solutions. If you have the passion and time, I encourage you to join my Community Action Team on Homelessness (BobCAT). Together we work with local and regional service providers to help homeless people get the help they need. This is a small way to learn about homelessness firsthand and help us climb out of this emergency. Please check out more about what I’m doing to combat homelessness at WestValleyChange.com. If you see someone who needs help, please use the LA Hop Portal (www.lahsa.org/portal/apps/la-hop/) so LAHSA caseworkers get dispatched to offer services.