Tuesday, April 10, 2007

L.A. County plan for homeless taking shape

From the Los Angeles Times....

South L.A., Pomona and a 'gateway' city are identified as possible sites for centers as part of a $100-million plan.

By Cara Mia DiMassa and Jack Leonard, Times Staff Writers
April 10, 2007

Los Angeles County's much-touted effort to shift homeless services from downtown Los Angeles to other areas is beginning to take shape, with county leaders zeroing in on three communities where homeless centers could be built.

A year ago, the Board of Supervisors approved an ambitious $100-million homeless plan, the centerpiece of which was a proposal to build five "regional centers" in the county.

The plan was part of a campaign to improve conditions on skid row by reducing the concentration of facilities that provide shelter and health services to transients. The proposal raised concerns in some suburbs, where residents said they worried that such facilities would bring crime and blight.

Although no specific sites have been selected, county officials said this week that South Los Angeles and the cluster of "gateway cities" south of downtown have all expressed interest in hosting facilities. County officials said they were talking to officials in Pomona about placing a center there.

The communities could still face protests, but officials said it made sense for them to step up. All three have struggled with homeless issues, and cooperating with the county would provide funds to deal with transients.

In a sense, the locations represent low-hanging fruit for the county in its quest to place homeless services throughout the region. Pomona, South Los Angeles and the gateway cities are all working-class areas.

And it remains to be seen whether the county will ever find a site in a more middle-class or upscale neighborhood, where some of the initial complaints about the plan were the loudest.

The county's plan originally called for a pilot program to be running within six months. But a year later, county officials realize that for the concept to work, "we were going to have to customize what would work, not just transplant our concept," said Lari Sheehan, who has been heading the homeless stabilization plan for the county's chief administrative office.

The original plan had called for the centers to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and include rehab centers and other support services.

But Sheehan said that officials were trying to work with cities that had expressed an interest in taking on the homeless centers, tailoring the setup of individual sites to cater to the needs of the communities.

"We are going to work with them to get us to our goal, in a way that makes sense for their communities," Sheehan said.

Richard Powers, executive director of the Gateway Cities Council of Governments, which represents 27 cities in the county's southeast area, said his organization agreed to put the pilot center in one of its cities.

Last week, county Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen told the gateway cities council that it could have $1.2 million in ongoing funds for one or more centers. Powers said that a center would complement homeless centers now in Bell and Long Beach, and would probably be situated between the two cities.

"In some cases, the issues do transcend cities," Powers said. Homelessness, he said, "really is a regional issue for us."

The South L.A. facility would be in an industrial area near Slauson Avenue and San Pedro Street, said Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents the area.

Perry, who has been leading the effort to clean up skid row and decentralize services, said the location would help serve many of the area's homeless. But, she said, it would leave some service gaps, including Compton and several unincorporated sections.

The talks over a Pomona facility also are in the early stage, though local homeless officials say the eastern San Gabriel Valley desperately needs more services.

Gilbert Saldate, a Pomona-based homeless advocate and board member of the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness, said too few cities in the San Gabriel Valley were willing to embrace homeless services, despite a growing need.

"I think when you look at the San Gabriel Valley area, there's tons of NIMBYism," he said. "Because it's broken into small cities, there's always been problems with those cities and the constituents of those cities saying, 'We don't want those programs here.' "

Saldate cited figures from the most recent homeless count that put the number of people without homes in the San Gabriel Valley at nearly 25,000 each year. About 94% of those do not live in shelters. Saldate suggested that the county bypass opposition from cities by finding a suitable site in unincorporated areas.

"That's property that they control," he said.

Three private homeless service centers that have tried to open outside of downtown, including proposals for Venice and Hollywood, have faced strong opposition in recent months. The Union Rescue Mission's two-year effort to get women and children off skid row by building a homeless shelter in a remote area on the edge of the Angeles National Forest also is in limbo after residents in nearby Sunland protested.

Though officials said they were beginning to make progress on the stabilization centers, they acknowledged that they have had a slower time launching the bulk of their $100-million plan.

So far, the county has spent $32 million, according to a county report that was issued last week. A project to subsidize rents for homeless families to help them move out of temporary facilities, which was started last December, has received no applications, the report said

But officials said they were beginning to make headway. In Santa Monica, a special court for the homeless was launched in February, and an initiative to help get children off skid row has reached more than 100 families since January.

In the next few weeks, the county will ask homeless service providers to submit bids to spend much of the rest of the money, including $52 million for a homeless and housing program fund.

"I know that there's a great deal of frustration at the board level, and with others, that we haven't been able to move this faster," Sheehan said. "We're trying to be as expeditious but as thoughtful as we can, so we are minimizing the mistakes we might make."

Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness, said some nonprofit homeless providers were grumbling that the county had taken too long to issue bids on the rest of the proposed initiative.

In addition, he said, other projects have been decided without seeking bids as county officials had tapped individual nonprofits that they believed were uniquely situated to help.

"There's a fair amount of uncomfortable-ness at the lack of what seemed to be an open process," Erlenbusch said.

Adlai Wertman, chief executive of Chrysalis, a nonprofit organization that helps the homeless find jobs and has sites in downtown, Santa Monica and Pacoima, said he was not surprised by how long the county was taking to spend its money. But, he said, the time lag was barely a concern given how little ultimately gets spent.

"It's not surprising," he said. "It's government. It takes them a year to spend the money — who cares? I'm really happy that they're making an effort and became aware of this problem, but unfortunately it's really a drop in the bucket."

So far, he said, too much effort has been spent on arresting the homeless and not enough on finding them places to live.

"What we've done is we've tried to sweep the problem away again, but we haven't come anywhere near ending this problem or taking people off of homelessness," he said.

But Tanya Tull, president and chief executive of Beyond Shelter, which is running the skid row families project for the county as part of the plan, praised the county's efforts.

"My impression is that I have never seen the county at the table on this issue in this way…. I think people need to realize that we are dealing with a disaster of tsunami proportions in regards to homelessness in Los Angeles," she said.



Read the article here: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-homeless10apr10,1,337135,full.story?coll=la-headlines-california

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