UCLA Luskin Urban Planning Chair Vinit Mukhija commented in a New York Times story about a program to offer homeowners incentives to house the homeless in their backyards. Pilot programs in the city and county of Los Angeles offer subsidies for the construction of so-called granny flats that would be rented for a set number of years to those in need of shelter. The programs are seen as a creative, if limited, way to address the affordable housing crisis, which Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called “the biggest humanitarian crisis in this city.” “In the total picture of homelessness, we know this will not necessarily change that much,” Mukhija said. “The value goes beyond that, though, because it is finally somewhat of a departure of the purity of single-family housing in the region. It’s a good step to change what people here really consider a dogma of private housing.”
By Stan Paul
Just how complex the problem of homelessness is in Los Angeles — and how to combat it — was the focus of a daylong program that brought students from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs together with community leaders and providers of homeless services from throughout the region on March 2, 2018, at Los Angeles City Hall.
Homelessness in Los Angeles is a problem with a long history. It’s also a growing and complex issue, with no easy fix for the estimated 50,000-plus people living on streets of the city and throughout greater L.A. County.
Read the summary report by student participants
Specific goals for the annual event include connecting students with City Hall and county leaders, analyzing an important public and social policy issue, and participating in informed discussion and debate with impacted city staff and civic leaders, according to VC Powe, director of career services and leadership, who has directed the program since its founding.
Hosting the students this year was Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who welcomed the students to City Hall and challenged them to research and come up with creative solutions to the question: What services can be provided today?
More than a dozen Luskin public policy, social welfare and urban planning graduate students worked together in teams to explore and brainstorm possible solutions for the thousands of people currently experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless. Each team met with and interviewed a wide range of leaders of city and county organizations and agencies focused on the problem. Interviewees ranged from homeless advocates and leaders of charitable organizations to a law enforcement officer and service providers for the homeless.
The students worked together throughout the day to provide Koretz, who represents the 5th Council District, with insights, ideas and policy solutions gathered from their interviews and discussions with program participants.
“I think students are finding out as they are talking to all these different stakeholders that there are some obstacles,” commented Toby Hur, UCLA Luskin Social Welfare field faculty member, who served as the students’ faculty adviser during the event at City Hall. “Building anything in L.A. is a complex process: It’s slow and with Measure H — the county sales tax increase — the money is just beginning to trickle down — finally,” Hur said.
Just a few of the issues discussed across the School’s three professional programs were zoning and land use, social services, law enforcement, jobs and job readiness, child care, NIMBYism and political will.
“For me, it’s a very personal issue,” said Michelle Viorato, a first-year public policy student from El Monte. “I’m really interested in finding solutions to keep people in their homes and prevent homelessness. It’s very frustrating to see.”
Viorato and her teammates, Ashley Mashian, a first-year urban planning student, and Jacob Woocher, a second-year urban planning student, met with Stephanie Klasky-Gamer, president and CEO of L.A. Family Housing; Jessica Duboff, vice president, Center for Business Advocacy, L.A. Chamber; and James Bickhart, a consultant with the office of Councilman Koretz.
“I’m seeing a lot of people who are being evicted — or are one paycheck away — and I want to see what measures we can take as a community at Luskin to work with City Hall trying to prevent homelessness,” said Mashian, who was born and raised in Los Angeles.
Gabriela Solis, a second-year public policy and social welfare student, said her team heard some great ideas during an interview with Gita O’Neill, who serves in a new city post: director of homeless policies and strategies in the office of the Los Angeles City Attorney. One of those ideas was to bring back a homeless court that was cut during the recession, said Solis, a native of East Los Angeles.
“[O’Neill’s] main focus is on legal services, and I think she has a really interesting standpoint. She is the first that the city has hired as a director of policy, something they don’t do historically,” Solis said. Her team also met with Dominic Choi, homeless coordinator for the Los Angeles Police Department.
“I think that LAPD gets this villain role,” Solis said. “It was interesting talking about his perspective on things because I think it’s important to have them at the table and involved in how we deal with this.”
After a morning of interviews, the students reconvened with Councilmember Koretz to discuss their findings and policy recommendations.
First-year MPP student Iman Nanji reported on her team’s meeting with Ruth Schwartz, co-founder and executive director of Shelter Partnership.
“We talked about how the pendulum may have swung too far on focusing on permanent supportive housing, and how we also need to focus on transitional short-term solutions to the homelessness problem in addition to the image of homelessness,” said Nanji, who serves on a team in the mayor’s office working on data-driven approaches to combating homelessness. “In [Schwartz’s] opinion, there’s still a lot of work to be done to just get a better idea of who actually is homeless. They’re not a monolith. How do we get a better sense of the diversity in the homeless population?”
Christopher Ayala, a second-year social welfare student, grew up in South Los Angeles and has had experience working with young people experiencing homelessness.
“Sometimes they are overlooked in the policy we are creating,” Ayala said. “So we are really trying to focus on them and see how we can adjust to their unique needs and in comparison to the chronically homeless.”
“Ending homelessness is a little ambitious, but combating homelessness is the right middle ground,” said Sam Blake, an MPP/MBA joint-program student. “On one hand, it can seem trivial, but at the end of the day, words are how we communicate and how we get people on board. So it’s important to pay attention to that.”
As part of Luskin Day at Los Angeles City Hall, the students will submit to Koretz a written policy memorandum summarizing their findings and policy recommendations.
“UCLA is a huge asset to the community and all of you, its students,” Koretz said as he presented certificates to the students at the conclusion of the day. “So we hope this will help you move toward becoming civic leaders of the future,” he said.
Hur noted that the students’ task is far from over.
“Coming up with solutions is a difficult task, but I think this is a good forum for them to understand the context — the political context, the community aspect and to be able to actually, really, begin to formulate and connect with all these people here,” he said. “The real work begins after today.”
UCLA Luskin Day at Los Angeles City Hall is now in its 14th year and serves to promote and encourage careers in politics and public service, as well as engage UCLA with local government, Powe said. The program is co-sponsored by UCLA’s Office of Community and Government Relations.
Read the transcript of an interview with Koretz conducted by UCLA Advocacy during UCLA Luskin Day at City Hall.
View additional photos from the City Hall visit in a Flickr album:
As first-year Master of Urban and Regional Planning students, Bianca Juarros and Esteban Doyle wanted to find meaningful ways to get involved with the UCLA campus community. The Luskin Food Mentorship program provided a way for them to do just that, while also exploring interesting and relevant topics.
The program is a part of a 10-week series on food called “Off the Table,” which is a combination of inspiring lectures, movie screenings and hands-on activities centered around food issues. The program matches graduate students in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs with undergraduate students pursuing the Food Studies minor. Pairs of students such as Juarros and Doyle are then tasked with coordinating a volunteer event at a local organization focused on food issues in Los Angeles. It offers a way to share knowledge, foster connections and make a meaningful impact on the greater community.
Here are the students’ impressions of the program and Juarros’ thoughts about its personal and educational benefits:
I had the opportunity to attend the “Off the Table” event called “Breaking Bread: Community Building with Veterans and Farming,” which delved into the often-unseen struggles faced by veterans after returning back home from a tour of duty — especially in terms of fostering social connections, finding newfound purpose and engaging in the healing process. The panel discussion opened my eyes to the vital importance that community gardens play in the reintegration process, especially among the UCLA community. I was moved by the stories shared by the panelists, many of whom were veterans themselves, and inspired by the efforts to re-create a veterans garden in Westwood. This was just one of many insightful “Off the Table” events.
In partnership with undergraduate students in the mentorship program, Esteban and I also coordinated a volunteer event at the L.A. Kitchen, which is an organization that employs formerly incarcerated individuals and emancipated foster youth to prepare food for community service organizations such as homeless shelters and senior centers. After promoting our event through our various networks, we were able to register a total of 15 people to volunteer. We recruited a mix of undergraduate and graduate students from various schools at UCLA.
On Saturday, Nov. 18, our volunteer group went to the L.A. Kitchen to volunteer with food preparation.
Because this was the Saturday before Thanksgiving, we had the special opportunity to help carve turkeys. One of the L.A. Kitchen staff members, a recent graduate of the culinary education program, demonstrated to all the volunteers how to properly break down a turkey, removing as much meat as possible. After the quick tutorial, we all set out to work at various stations. We handled hundreds of turkeys!
Working side-by-side with other students was a wonderful time. People shared their favorite Thanksgiving memories while de-boning turkey legs. With everyone talking, sharing and laughing, it hardly felt like work at all. Time flies when you’re having fun!
We finished all the turkeys in record time. It helped, of course, that another large group — volunteers from a local electrical union — was volunteering that morning as well.
Going forward, we hope to maintain a close relationship with L.A. Kitchen. All the students who volunteered said they had a great time and would love to do it again. The L.A. Kitchen staff members mentioned wanting to strengthen ties with the UCLA community too.
We hope to continue planning more volunteer experiences with the L.A. Kitchen and bring in more UCLA students to share the wonderful experience.
On Dec. 2, 2017, UCLA Luskin Master of Urban and Regional Planning students Alexander Salgado and Ana Kobara joined with UCLA undergraduate mentees Audree Hsu and Sophie Go as part of the UCLA Luskin Food Mentorship program to participate in a volunteer effort with Food Forward.
Food Forward is a nonprofit organization that works with multiple farmer’s markets in Los Angeles to collect donated food from vendors to pass along to organizations in need of fresh food. Throughout the day, the students walked a farmer’s market in Hollywood and delivered empty boxes to vendors that could fill them with produce.
For the day, the student volunteers collected and organized more than 1,700 pounds of food, which was then delivered or picked up by various organizations in need.
“The experience in itself was very rewarding,” Salgado said. “It was nice to see vendors so eager and willing to help others.”
By Zev Hurwitz
With nearly 60,000 Angelenos struggling with homelessness, local change agents have taken on the task of developing policies and services to address the crisis.
At a Nov. 15, 2017, panel discussion at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, four leaders in the field discussed the challenges and opportunities in finding solutions for the plethora of Los Angeles residents who do not have access to permanent housing.
Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning at the Luskin School, moderated the “Homelessness in Los Angeles” event. Other participants were Jerry Ramirez, manager of Los Angeles County’s homeless initiative; Dora Leon Gallo, CEO of A Community of Friends; Jordan Vega, a current UCLA student and a director of Bruin Shelter, a registered student organization; and Skid Row resident Suzette Shaw.
Lens began the lunch program by noting some alarming homelessness statistics and emphasizing the importance of having the conversation.
“Many of us are familiar with the fact that homelessness is very much on the rise in Los Angeles County,” he said. “In January of 2017, volunteers counted over 58,000 people experiencing homelessness across L.A. County, which is a 23 percent rise over the previous year.”
Lens pointed out that 34,000 of those people are in the City of Los Angeles. Within the city, 25,000 homeless are living “unsheltered” and 11,000 fell into the category of “chronically homeless.
“These are large numbers historically, and they’re large numbers for any city,” he said.
Gallo’s organization, A Community of Friends, works with the local government and other non-profits to provide permanent supportive housing for the homeless. The group, which launched nearly 30 years ago with a grant from the county’s Department of Mental Health, manages 47 buildings and provides in-house services in 18 of those buildings.
Gallo said that her group believes in a “housing first” approach to homelessness and that the model for permanent housing relies on subsidies that enable tenants to pay a fraction of their income in rent, no matter how small that income, without sacrificing the community aspect of living in Los Angeles.
“There really was no housing provider out there that was providing housing that is affordable,” she said. “Our initial founders wanted to create a community where people would have friends.
Earlier this year, L.A. County voters approved Measure H — a tax expected to raise $355 million for homeless services over the next 10 years. The county has developed 21 strategies for addressing homelessness and plans to use Measure H funding to increase housing and services for the county’s homeless. Separately, city voters in 2016 passed Proposition HHH — a bond measure that will directly fund new housing units for low-income and housing insecure Angelenos.
“The 1.2 billion (dollars) from Proposition HHH is for the construction of permanent supportive housing,” Ramirez said. “Where Measure H comes in, it really complements supportive housing because it’s millions of dollars to provide the services. Half the challenge is getting a home for a homeless person — then the hard work begins in keeping them there.”
Ramirez said that the county is hoping to bring in more partners like A Community of Friends to help map out the landscape for new programs and housing units to be funded under Measure H.
“We’re trying to be very inclusive in this process because the county can’t do it alone,” he said. “We’re trying to be inclusive, collaborative and transparent.”
Not all services are being provided at the regional level. Vega helps run Bruin Shelter, which launched last year and currently provides beds for six housing insecure UCLA students. It is the first student-run shelter for peers in the country.
Vega’s personal experience with friends who struggled with homelessness inspired him to take on the role at Bruin Shelter, which helps operate the shelter of Students4Students. Students have access to UCLA medical and social welfare students who provide case management services.
“Our space is kind of small — we’re next to a church,” he said. “We’re currently under construction, hoping to expand, so that we can accommodate more students.”
Suzette Shaw is a resident of Skid Row and knows firsthand the struggles that homeless people can face living on the streets.
“We need to make sure that now that we have the dollars, we are intentionally allocating them and very proactive in allocating those funds to organizations and individuals who make sure that the dollars are addressing the needs of the people,” she said.
Shaw used to run a business and commuted long distances to work to try to make ends meet before moving to Skid Row. She’s now living in a housing unit under her Section Eight voucher, which she had for nine months before receiving a unit. Shaw is very open about her story because people need to have more exposure to homeless in order to address the crisis.
“People tend to stereotype and sensationalize what poverty looks like,” Shaw said. “We have to get real about who we are. We talk about NIMBY-ism, ‘not-in-my-backyard.’ People are either going to live on the sidewalk next to you or else you’re going to make a space for them in the building next to you.”
The issue is one of basic human rights for Shaw.
“I may be poor and I may live on the brink, but I do deserve housing and housing should be a human right,” she said.
The talk was part of an ongoing Housing, Equity and Community series put on by the UCLA Lewis Center, which co-sponsored the event with the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate. The Lewis Center plans to hold more events in the winter and spring quarters on housing issues.