By Stan Paul & Max Wynn
Can Los Angeles Really End Homelessness? For the City of Los Angeles it’s not just a big problem, homelessness in LA is the largest among cities nationwide. For the tens of thousands of people each night whose home is the streets of Los Angeles, “the challenges are problematic, but more so here than any other place,” said Michael Stoll, chair of the UCLA Luskin School’s Department of Public Policy.
Thursday's event, “Perspectives in Quality Care,” marked the beginning of a Luskin student-organized series “Can Los Angeles Really End Homelessness?” which is scheduled to run throughout the academic year. The intent of the series is to focus on the many facets of homelessness, starting with those who grapple with the problem every day
A three-person panel — Tessa Madden from PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), Deborah Seif, part of the Skid Row Housing Trust and Va Lecia Adams Kellum from the St. Joseph Center — all supported a policy they called “housing first,” which makes housing the homeless a top priority. The trio agreed that getting people off the streets makes treating the issues that cause homelessness easier and more effective.
According to Seif, who is a Resident Services Program Manager, “when the services were there they found incredible results ... 85 percent of chronically homeless with [at least] eight years on the street were able to be successful [in maintaining housing].”
Seif also emphasized that housing first policies were not only effective but also fiscally sound because “statistically it costs five times less to house someone and provide services for them than to leave them on the streets.”
Housing alone does not address the many issues that homeless have, she said, rather, “systems integration in permanent housing is the key to ending homelessness.” Madden concurred, describing the many different angles that PATH takes in working with the homeless: from housing and family programs to veterans programs and “street teams,” that encourage the homeless to seek services.
Despite the high concentration of homeless in Skid Row, the panelists maintained that homelessness is an issue that affects all of Southern California. Madden, who is the Development Coordinator at PATH, says her organization, “started right here in Westwood. We started out of a very small community group out of Westwood Presbyterian Church that was really concerned with taking care of the homeless neighbors ... [that we] saw on these very streets.”
The presence of the homeless across all of Southern California highlights the challenges of working with a population that is both geographically and demographically diverse. Nevertheless Madden believes that housing first policies are as effective in San Diego as they are in Skid Row. Describing the initial pushback against placing a housing facility in San Diego’s downtown business district Madden stated that, “once you start those talks…[you can] really get these people understanding that it’s an important issue, and that the majority of [San Diego’s] homeless population is already concentrated in downtown San Diego, and providing...services and comprehensive support for those individuals right there is the…[best] solution.”
An important element in these solutions is the diverse skillsets of the men and women who are dedicated to ending homelessness. Adams Kellum, the Executive Director of the St. Joseph Center, made a point of saying that “the key to this work, to housing first...is these interdisciplinary teams where you have a physician, a nurse practitioner, a social worker, a clinical social worker, you have a case manager and you have a housing manager, and these interdisciplinary teams are the ones responsible for this amazing work.”
Kellum’s belief in the importance of interdisciplinary solutions is a view that is shared by the series’ student organizers.
“The idea was to come together and have a discussion between the three departments within the School,” said second-year Public Policy student Martha Washo. “Students always appreciate when there is an opportunity to think about these problems and their solutions in a way that they are not used to.”
One of the fellow
event organizers, Linnea Koopmans, a Social Welfare student, explained that “the solutions to homelessness are complex, and when you think
about poverty there are a lot of different factors that go into that, and I
think that having many different lenses to approach the problem will guide us
to better solutions and better programs.”
The next event in the series is a guided tour of Skid Row on October 11th, followed by a Panel titled Building a System that Works on November 7th. The series also includes the United Way HomeWalk on November 23rd.
More information about all the events in the series is available by clicking here.